Director Ridley Scott is back with his first official prequel to the “Alien” movie series with “Alien: Covenant,” a thrilling sixth chapter in the franchise that began with “Alien” in 1979. The first possibly to more prequels to “Alien,” the film bridges the events of 2012’s “Prometheus” to a new intergalactic ship, the Covenant, which is populated with 16 crew members and 2,000 people in hypersleep headed to a distant planet for colonization.
But when a communication beacon tempts the Covenant to veer off-course, the ship lands on a different planet to discover not only the fate of the “Prometheus” characters Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the android David (Michael Fassbender), but the horrifying destiny that awaits them.
Hear Tim’s review of “Alien: Covenant” with Tom Barnard and Phillip “The Philly Dawg” Wise on KQRS.
While “Alien: Covenant” has the distinct feeling of an “Alien” film (especially when the face-hugging Xenomorphs come into play), Scott, through his expert direction creates tension and bloody gore that easily bests any horror film in theaters today.
The bonus is, there are great actors like Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir and Danny McBride (in a rare, serious role) to help amplify the atmosphere, setting up a tantalizing premise to the next “Alien” film.
Watch Tim’s review of “Alien: Covenant” with Adrienne Broadus on KARE 11.
There surely will be some disagreements, but here are 10 of the films that made movie-going worthwhile in 2015.
10. “The Walk” – Robert Zemeckis’ direction is at its jaw-dropping best with this stunning recreation of French performer Phillipe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) “artistic coup” – a death-defying wire walk between the void of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The point-of-view shots on the wire were among the most, if not the most
m>, intense scenes on the big screen this year.
9. “The Martian” – Director Ridley Scott returns to space once again – sans any alien life forms — with one of the most entertaining films of the year in this tale about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who was presumed dead after a vicious storm hits his team’s Mars expedition. True, it’s mostly a one-man show for Damon, but in between, the talented ensemble including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean help create an engaging rescue mission filled with as many laughs as there are thrills. It’s a real blast (off).
8. “Legend” – Tom Hardy flawlessly demonstrates why he’s one of the best actors today with a dual performance as twins Ron and Reggie Kray, a pair of brutal gangsters who ruled the East end of London in the 1960s. Nearly identical in appearance, Hardy immediately establishes the distinct personalities of the Krays, making you quickly forget that what you’re watching are essentially impressive camera tricks. Proceeded by his kick-ass turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and followed by his frightening turn in “The Revenant,” 2015 was the year of Tom Hardy.
7. “The Big Short” – Four groups of Wall Street outsiders stick it to the big banks during the housing meltdown of 2008, which feels great until you realize that even after the financial Armageddon, nothing really changes. Director Adam McKay makes an impressive transition from comedy to satire and drama with a film so slickly executed that it hearkens the greatness of Martin Scorsese. Christian Bale is the best of the film’s winning ensemble cast.
6. “Inside Out” – Pixar’s “Up” Oscar-winner Pete Docter is back with this ingenious tale of how five emotions become mixed when an 11-year-old girl struggles with her family’s relocation from Minnesota to San Francisco. Like “Toy Story 3,” “Inside Out” is as much an emotional roller coaster for adults as it is a visual wonder filled with laughs for kids.
5. “Steve Jobs” – Michael Fassbender gives a career performance as the complex, socially-inept co-founder of Apple Computers, ingeniously played out during three pivotal moments of his career. Director Danny Boyle realizes his vision more like a stage play through Aaron Sorkin’s whip smart dialogue, where Jobs’ embattled colleagues (expertly played by Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and to a lesser degree, Seth Rogen) wrack their brains trying to figure the prickly computer pioneer out.
4.”Cinderella” – Far and away the most beautiful piece of cinema in 2015, this Kenneth Branagh-directed gem is one of the few films this year to deliver on all levels. Sometimes emotional, sometimes funny, and always full of heart, “Cinderella” has everything from stunning performances, awe-inspiring sets, gorgeous costumes, an emotional score and the recalibration of a classic character to reflect the modern age without damaging the classic tale’s integrity. Most of all, the film’s important message, “Have courage and be kind,” is one that will resonate for ages.
3. “Spotlight” – The film’s subject matter is depressing as all hell, but this film about The Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Boston Archdiocese’s priest sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s is so compelling that you can’t help but be gripped by it from beginning to end. The film not only recalls the greatness of “All the President’s Men,” but also serves as a reminder of today’s sad state of investigative journalism (if not journalism as a whole), which has been shot to hell by the Wild West Internet landscape where every media outlet has to have the story first, even if the facts aren’t completely right.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road” – Writer-director George Miller finally gets the opportunity to make the “Mad Max” film he’s always wanted to make with this hyperkinetic road opus that can’t be described as anything but “batshit crazy.” Tom Hardy wipes the memory slate clean of Mel Gibson with his brooding performance as the title character, and Charlize Theron gives a furious performance of the aptly-titled character Furiosa.
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Sure, it’s not perfect, but how often can a film match the tone of the original 37 years after its release, and the monstrous expectations that go with it? The Force is back in a big way thanks to the ever-burgeoning creativity of writer-director J.J. Abrams, and this seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga serves as a big reminder why we love movies in the first place. “Episode VII” can’t come soon enough.
10 honorable mentions: “Ex Machina,” “Black Mass,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Revenant,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Ant-Man,” “Creed,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “The Peanuts Movie.”
Worst film of 2015:“Sisters” – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler force an uncharacteristic brand of raunchy comedy down our throats that’s dreadfully unfunny and downright embarrassing. How this film got the greenlight to begin with, is one of the great mysteries of 2015. The “Saturday Night Live” alums must know where some bodies are buried.
Director Robert Zemeckis takes the art of filmmaking to dizzy new heights, quite literally, with “The Walk,” a brilliant dramatic recreation of Phillipe Petit’s death-defying wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Even though the amazing feat was chronicled in the Oscar-winning 2008
documentary “Man on Wire” and we know how the story ends, Zemeckis — through the stellar acting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit — still expertly manages to place the viewer right on the wire with the famed wire walker and creates an air of uncertainty. Before that, Zemeckis recounts the extraordinary events leading up to the walk, ingeniously framing them within something you’d see in a heist film.
“The Walk” can only be seen on IMAX screens until its wide opening Oct. 9, and quite frankly it’s the only way to see it. It’s a film experience that might not play well for those afraid of heights, as Zemeckis creates one of the most intense film atmospheres in recent memory. While “The Walk” is an uplifting film, there’s obviously a looming sense of sadness as the vision of the Twin Towers recalls the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 — an event that Gordon-Levitt handles with heartbreaking subtlety with a beautiful soliloquy at the film’s conclusion. It’s one of the best films of the year.
“The Martian” 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
The curse of lukewarm Red Planet movies is lifted by director Ridley Scott with “The Martian,” a smart, sci-fi epic that wonderfully mixes action, adventure, drama, comedy and great visual effects into a relatable narrative about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. A movie that respects its audiences’ intelligence, “The Martian” works real science into the story, yet presents it in a way that we can all understand. Following the brilliance of director Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” Scott continues to raise the bar that future space films should strive for.
Unlike his classic space thriller “Alien,” and “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” Scott’s monster in “The Martian” is time, as astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left alone on Mars and presumed dead after a storm separates him from his crew. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including the likes of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor as astronauts and NASA personnel scrambling to assemble a rescue plan, “The Martian” proves that Scott is once again at the top of his game.
Although he’s been in the movie and television business the past 12 years, the last four have been especially eventful for Sebastian Stan, morphing from good guy Bucky Barnes to the villain The Winter Soldier in the “Captain America” movies, and playing Sigourney Weaver’s son in the acclaimed USA Network miniseries “Political Animals.”
Given his role opposite Weaver, though, makes you wonder if the 33-year-old actor has a secret agenda to work with the people who brought the sci-fi classic “Alien” to life — including Ridley Scott, who directed Stan in his latest film, “The Martian.”
“I didn’t think of that at all. I should have said that to Ridley when we were shooting. I didn’t even think about Sigourney,” Stan told me with a laugh in a recent phone conversation from Toronto. “But now I should try (to work with everyone). It was a good cast.”
Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “The Martian” stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is separated from his crew during a mission on Mars and presumed dead after his fellow astronauts evacuate the planet. Watney is very much alive, though, and with a base camp and limited supplies, must find a way to establish communication with NASA on Earth and find a way to survive for months if the agency is to approve a rescue mission.
Stan plays Chris Beck, who with his fellow astronauts (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie) must decide to defy NASA’s orders and commit mutiny by turning around their ship to return to Mars and save Watney.
In order for the rescue mission to work, the crew members have to be 100 percent on board with the plan, or the already dangerous plan will put Watney in greater peril. Stan said that the reason that the crew seems so unified in the film is that the actors are also 100 percent committed to what they’re doing in their characterizations, which made shooting the scenes all the more exciting.
“It is about commitment, and that’s why it works with this group. They’re so versatile and not afraid to take chances,” Stan said. “Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena — everybody — they elevate you when they’re around you. It makes you realize, ‘I’m a better actor because of these guys.'”
Also making Stan feel like he was in the moment was Scott’s insistence — just like his other films — that he used practical special effects as much as possible.
“We really had a set to work with — it wasn’t just green screen — we really wore those astronaut uniforms and the ship was very detailed and intricate, and built from scratch,” Stan said. “Ridley and the filmmakers constantly spoke with NASA to finalize everything, including the overall look of the astronauts. It always pulls me in more when I watch a movie and I know that there isn’t that much CGI in it. It’s crazy to think that ‘The Martian’ didn’t have that much CGI.”
“The Martian” was almost an exercise in wish fulfillment for Romania native, who wanted to be astronaut as a child. But Stan, who moved with his mother to New York at age 12, said, audience members don’t have to have their sights set on the stars to relate to “The Martian.”
“The movie has right amount of humor and suspense, and you invested when you’re watching the film,” Stan said. “It feels very grounded and there’s an everyman feeling in Matt Damon’s character, just because he’s so relatable.”
Stan, who also recently starred opposite Meryl Streep in the music-themed family drama “Ricki and the Flash,” is currently reprising his role as The Winter Soldier in the hotly anticipated Marvel superhero sequel “Captain America: Civil War.” Look for that to hit theaters in May.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers