Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

Four Star Rating

“Just when it seemed that Ridley Scott’s decline had become irreversible, along comes All the Money in the World” – Wayward Wolf.

The last five years or so have not exactly been what you’d call ‘vintage’ years for one of the big screen’s favourite directors. I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s now in the public’s interest for his films to be preceded by some kind of warning:

CAUTION: RIDLEY SCOTT.

From the man that was bang on track with classics such as: Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, the last few years have seen the Ridley Scott Express somewhat derailed thanks to a succession of hugely disappointing offerings.

Prometheus, The Counsellor, Alien: Covenant and the admittedly half-decent The Martian (loved the first half, hated the second) – each, in its own way, has been as underwhelming as the next.

But as the old sport-related adage suggests: form is temporary but class is permanent, and you can’t keep a good man down. Just when it seemed that Ridley Scott’s decline had become irreversible, along comes All the Money in the World.

Based upon the extraordinary true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, it tells of his mother’s bullish attempts to convince the boy’s billionaire Grandfather, John Paul Getty (the superb Christopher Plummer), to loosen his purse strings a little and stump up the $17 million ransom being demanded by John Paul Getty III’s Italian captors.

But John Paul Getty is stubborn and something of a complicated character, and prising the money from this man’s overly-tight grasp will prove to be much easier said than done.

Much as Governments will typically refuse to succumb to the demands of terrorists, John Paul Getty, whilst having no problem in publicly admitting to the deep love that he feels for his Grandson, seems suitably unperturbed by the young lad’s plight. Instead, time rolls on and even the grisly spectacle of a part of his Grandson’s ear materialising one day in the post, is insufficient to force the stubborn billionaire’s hand.

All the while, John Paul Getty III’s mother, Gail Harris (the excellent Michelle Williams), and Getty’s own head of security, Fletcher Chase (a nice turn from Mark Wahlberg), do everything within their power to not only track down the kidnappers, but more importantly, to attempt to convince John Paul Getty to part with what is after all, a very small fraction of his overall fortune. It soon becomes clear, however, that John Paul Getty will only ever consider adhering to Gail’s wishes upon a certain condition; one that would ultimately snatch Gail’s son away from her own parental control.

All the Money in the World is a prime example of Ridley Scott being a superb director for the big occasion. He’s never been one to shy away from the memorable, the dramatic, the tongue-in-cheek or the big show-stopping scenes. And in this latest big budget crime caper, one scene in particular will have you positively squirming in your seat. But such attention-grabbing antics only serve to positively enhance, not distract in any way from the film’s captivating narrative.

Whereas many of Scott’s recent outings have had the tendency to slide into the realm of the poorly-scripted and the cliché-riddled – in essence a tendency to sell out to the needs of the mainstream – All the Money in the World does no such thing.

With well judged attention paid to the psychology of the unfolding scenario, Ridley Scott succeeds in sustaining a high degree of intrigue, knowing exactly when to ramp up the suspense levels, and more importantly resisting – mercifully – the need to resort to any sort of naff Hollywood closing flourish.

This is a fine, captivating film which achieves that tricky balance between popcorn and fine story telling. In other words, this is every bit a Ridley Scott film – done well, and one, consequently, that should appeal right across the board.

 

 

 

 

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SUBURBICON

“Suburbicon is a rather disjointed hotchpotch of ideas and concepts, like a mis-matched outfit thrown together by an owner racked by indecision whilst going through something of an identity crisis.”

Wayward Wolf.

I’d love to wax lyrical about the merits of a George Clooney-directed film based upon an original Coen Brothers script with all of the sort of gushing praise that those particular ingredients should probably warrant.

But I can’t. It’s just not possible. And considering that I was entirely convinced by the film’s superbly enticing trailer, this therefore represents something of a significant disappointment.

Suburbicon is a tale of dark deeds and whole-scale unrest that occurs on an idyllic housing development in 1960’s America. It follows the exploits of up-standing pillar of society and middle-class family man, Gardner Lodge (a fine performance from Matt Damon it should be said), whose life is suddenly rocked by the death of his disabled wife; an event instigated by a couple of ne’er-do-well hoodlums whilst carrying out a bungled burglary / hostage scenario at Gardner’s family home.

Friends and relatives understandably all rally around during such troubled times, and Gardner decides that in the interest of maintaining some sort of home-life stability, his wife’s identical twin sister, Margaret, should move into the family home for a while.

But things are not quite what they seem in this land of neatly-kempt lawns, white picket fences and twitching curtains, and with the cat threatening to bolt clean out of the bag, Gardner’s life begins to unravel, descending ultimately into outright chaos.

The basic premise of Clooney’s film is a fairly simple one – a tale of dodgy insurance claims and bungling mafiosi, and whilst it’s perhaps not a tale representing any great sense of originality, it certainly contains sufficient substance and intrigue from which to fashion something perfectly watchable.

Certainly Suburbicon‘s cast all put in dependably solid performances. Damon, as mentioned already, is excellent and is ably supported by Julianne Moore in her twin roles as both Gardner’s wife (Rose), and her twin sister (Margaret). Credit too to Oscar Isaac and his portrayal of wily insurance claim investigator, Bud Cooper, which is something of a highlight.

Yet, in spite of such a stellar cast, mysteriously, Clooney’s Suburbicon succeeds only in underwhelming, bringing to mind Ridley Scott’s 2013 hugely disappointing, The Counsellor. It too was a film boasting an impressive who’s-who of top acting talent with a big name director on board, yet ultimately absolutely stank the gaff out.

Suburbicon is a rather disjointed hotchpotch of ideas and concepts, like a mis-matched outfit thrown together by an owner that’s racked by indecision whilst simultaneously experiencing something of an identity crisis. And I’m still trying to work out the true relevance of the the story’s race-related sub-plot which felt both peripheral and largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Add in the usually reliable Alexandre Desplat’s dreary omnipresent score splashed lavishly and unnecessarily all over the place, and Clooney’s film – one which threatened to be something of a devilishly dark comic romp, on paper – is one that’s probably worth giving something of a wide berth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049

“…airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which [these] holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.”

Wayward Wolf.

There is a school of opinion that I’ve been made aware of a number of times since the release of Blade Runner 2049. It’s one that suggests the film is overlong and drawn-out, with a bloated sense of self-importance. Now, that’s a pretty harsh assessment in anyone’s book and not one that I necessarily agree with, yet it’s not entirely a mystery as to why such an exaggerated conclusion might have come about.

At getting on towards three hours in duration, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner, is certainly in no rush, and clearly not concerned with your average curtailed 2017 attention span, and other such modern phenomena.

There is also a propensity for Blade Runner 2049‘s early exchanges to veer towards technological overload at times with the director positively wallowing in gadget and technology porn, leaving us in no doubt whatsoever that this is a point in time in which there have been absolute quantum leaps beyond what would be considered high-tech in 2017.

Less prevalent is the incessant rain of Blade Runner, now largely replaced by an overcast, desolate and arid climate over which hangs a smog so thick you could cut it. Perhaps an indication of a planet whose raised mean temperature has ultimately led to water becoming something of a scarce resource?

The future Los Angeles cityscape that has been conjured up here is one in which holographic advertisements for everything from major corporations to virtual call girls reach out and interact with the public. And airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which these holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.

In amongst this rather soulless, gloom-sodden backdrop we are introduced to the story of  ‘K’ (an appropriately dead-pan performance from Ryan Gosling), a replicant working for the LAPD, who, on successfully executing a mission to ‘retire’ one of the few remaining rogue replicants, stumbles upon the remains of a female replicant buried beneath a nearby dead tree. This in itself isn’t necessarily news-worthy, but the fact that the replicant appears to have died during caesarean childbirth having obviously been pregnant – an impossibility according to mainstream scientific thought – clearly is.

Such a scenario presents the possibility of a hugely volatile situation unfolding, deemed potentially explosive enough to cause great conflict between humans and replicants, and K is therefore instructed by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to track down the replicant child that had been born and eliminate it and all evidence that it had ever existed.

Blade Runner 2049 is noticeably built around a strong narrative, the slow and considered execution of which is very much to the benefit of the piece, building an introspective, mood-heavy work that offers its viewer ample time to consider and reflect upon the film’s myriad themes, not to mention opportunities to grapple with the film’s finer, slightly more cerebrally-taxing plot points.

Perhaps most impressive is its ability to elevate itself above 90% of any science fiction that has ever been committed to celluloid, by demonstrating considerable heart. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by way of K’s touching, if slightly unconventional relationship with his holographic other half, Joi (making full use of the seductive charms of Ana de Armas). Essentially, we’re talking about an android dating a moving picture here, yet Villeneueve successfully convinces us that such a scenario can be considered to be much more than just that, painting a picture of trust, intimacy, and dare I say it, something bordering on love? Not just a sequence of high-tech mechanics.

Joi’s frequent appearances are heralded by strains of Peter’s theme, from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Such a sonically beautiful interlude, no matter how brief, is a nice touch, and a refreshing reminder from within such a cold impersonal landscape, of the true essence of humanity and of genuine emotion; not to mention a nod no doubt to the enduring longevity of real works of art.

And talking of music: though lacking the soaring sonic themes of its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 – through the efforts of both Benjamin Wallfisch and the ever reliable Hans Zimmer – has at least tipped its hat to those sumptuous sensual swelling synth sounds of the magnificent Vangelis original, producing a soundtrack that, whilst unexceptional, at least offers some degree of continuity between the two films, and hence a reassuring familiarity.

Gosling, Wright and De Armas are joined in a strong cast by Jared Leto who puts in a powerful turn as Niander Wallace – a character that I felt a little more could have been made of – and naturally Harrison Ford is brought back in for a cameo role, reviving his portrayal of Rick Deckard, a move which thankfully proves to be far more than just a fleeting contractual obligation, with his character carefully and convincingly engrained into the film’s nuanced narrative.

It’s been 35 years now since Blade Runner first hit the big screen, and to even have attempted to create a sequel that does justice to the revered original was something of a bold move. The fact that Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian vision, whilst by no means perfect, not only doesn’t sour the lingering memory of one of the all time greats but proves to be a very fine film in its own right, is testament to the work of an excellent and courageous director.

 

 

 

 

 

ALIEN: COVENANT

“…a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.”

Wayward Wolf.

Oh how I long for simplicity.

There are a handful of set pieces within Alien: Covenant that hint at what a decent film it could have been, but so buried are they within an over-cooked, rambling backstory, that any impact they may lend the film is fleeting, to say the least.

It was Ridley Scott who took charge of the much-hyped, but ultimately quite frankly poor, Prometheus, and in Alien: Covenant, he once again looks to rediscover a bit of that old Alien magic in the latest chapter of this most patchy of franchises.

Sadly, long gone it seems are the days when we cowered in horror and bit our nails down to the bone in fearful awe of the most excellent Alien, not to mention it’s excellent James Cameron-directed sequel, Aliens. Whilst Alien: Covenant does have its moments, it’s a very pale imitation of what’s preceded it.

Another 2017 release, Life, made no pretence to be anything other than something of a homage to some of the great science fiction films of the last half century, yet despite its relatively unoriginal concept(s), it delivered a tight, neatly packaged and thoroughly entertaining finished product with both considerable impact and laser-sharp precision.

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, in contrast, struggles somewhat for identity. There’s clearly an ‘epic’ vision at play behind the scenes here. The director tries manfully to engage his audience on far more of an expansive scale and cerebral level than simply throwing rampaging aliens in numbers at unsuspecting space travellers (although there’s plenty of that to be getting on with), but the general impression is that this is a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.

Part thriller, part thought-provoking science fiction piece, part action-packed white knuckle ride, part philosophical lament, you name it, this is a film that struggles gamely yet ultimately fails to weave these and other disparate threads together into something resembling a coherent whole.

Alien: Covenant is not helped by both momentum-sapping, drawn-out scenes of unnecessary ponderous self-reflection, and by fairly weak characterisation.

Although Michael Fassbender (playing both David & Walter) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) turn in strong performances, and as whole-heartedly as all other parts are played, there’s something of a disconnect here between viewer and character, and I doubt that there will have been too many tears shed by the viewing public as the cast are predictably whittled down in number via various grisly means, leaving the remaining few to battle it all out in overly exaggerated bloated fight sequences.

Where Alien: Covenant does however score highly, is in the ‘memorable, hard-hitting set pieces’ department. Indeed, never let it be said that Ridley Scott doesn’t know how to shock, or to sear disturbing imagery into our collective grey matter.

There are certain franchises that tend to garner a generous tidal wave of goodwill regardless of the true quality of their output, attracting something of a blinkered, head-in-the-sand devotion by the masses. The Alien franchise is one such example. But the truth is that there have been just two truly excellent Alien films in the series, and the rest, no matter how much you dress them up, or who’s been pulling the strings, have largely been regurgitated re-hashes of the original, admittedly excellent concept.

There’s no doubt that there were good and very grand intentions behind Alien: Covenant – this is a film not without its positives, rest assured – but it’s probably all  best summed up by the rather sign-posted ‘twist’ at the film’s conclusion. Well executed, but rather predictable and ultimately all a bit unnecessary.