Star Trek Beyond

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2016

Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media/Alibaba Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci

Written by Simon Pegg/Doug Jung

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

They say that the third time’s the charm and in the case of STAR TREK BEYOND I’d have to say that’s a fact. Not that the first two movies were out and out awful. They weren’t. They had the burden of being reboots of the beloved franchise that has lasted for fifty years now. And the news that the reboot would be set in an alternate timeline with new actors playing the classic roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov didn’t send fans into the stratosphere with joy. I liked the first “Star Trek” even though I didn’t find the story engaging or particularly thrilling. But I enjoyed seeing new faces playing familiar characters and I think the infusion of new creative blood behind the camera is the best thing that could have happened to “Star Trek” overall.

I even liked “Star Trek Into Darkness” even though it made the mistake of trying to be “The Wrath of Khan” and apparently nobody took a cue from The Next Generation movie “Nemesis” or the three episode arc from Enterprise: “Borderland” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.” Because if they had, they’d have known that trick never works.

But thankfully STAR TREK BEYOND has a new director and an original story at last to work with. And the result is a movie and a story that feels like it could have been a movie made back when the original cast was in their prime. Much of that feeling comes from a screenplay that gives every crew member something to do and their chance to shine. The best “Star Trek” movies are the ones where all of the crew members are active in the story. And this one reinforces the concept that the reason Kirk is able to save the universe on a regular basis is that he has the best and brightest in Starfleet at his side and he knows the best way to utilize their skills and talents as a team.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is in the third year of it’s five year mission and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the ennui of deep space exploration. He’s increasingly wondering what he’s doing out here and if this is really what he’s supposed to be doing with his life as he only joined Starfleet on a dare. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also having a spiritual crisis of his own. Vulcans are now an endangered species and Spock is beginning to think that he should be on New Vulcan helping his people instead of gallivanting around the galaxy.

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The Enterprise puts in for shore leave at Starbase Yorktown, a ridiculously huge city in space for some much needed R&R but that doesn’t last long. Starbase Yorktown’s commanding officer Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is soon dispatching Kirk and crew on a rescue mission to the planet Altamid. Turns out that the rescue mission is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by a swarm of spaceships. Krall (Idris Elba) who is looking for an ancient superweapon he insists is in Kirk’s possession captures most of the crew. The bridge crew is separated: Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) Spock with Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of Krall while Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) comes under the protection of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) a scavenger whose martial arts abilities are more than considerably dangerous.

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As Kirk puts his crew back together, Krall’s plan is gradually uncovered. Using the ancient superweapon, Krall intends to attack Starbase Yorktown and kill everybody inhabiting it. He will then use the Starbase and it’s considerable resources to attack The Federation. Can Kirk reunite his crew in time to find a way off the planet and stop Krall? Since Paramount has already announced there’s going to be a fourth movie I think that in itself answers that question.

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For the first time, Chris Pine looks comfortable playing James Kirk and I think that’s because he’s become confident enough in his own acting abilities. He’s been in a significant amount of movies other than the “Star Trek” movie where he’s distinguished himself and so I think he’s not fighting so hard to not be William Shatner. Which is what I got from his earlier performances in the previous “Star Trek” movies. In fact, a lot of the fun in watching his performance here is because he is doing Shatner in many of the scenes, especially the opening scene where he’s negotiating a peace treaty. He’s even got his hair cut in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s hair style in The Original Series.

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Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban nailed the essence of their characters right from their first scenes in the first movie and that hasn’t changed. Especially Karl Urban. I say again that I’m halfway convinced he must somehow be related to DeForest Kelly as he channels his spirit to an uncanny degree. The movie’s story wisely puts McCoy and Spock together most of the time and their scenes together are perhaps the best tribute to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly.

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Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a nice subplot of his own (hey, if you’re writing the screenplay then why not give yourself a juicy subplot?) as he becomes a sort of mentor/big brother to Jaylah. She herself meshes so well with the crew that I’m hoping they’ll bring her back as a permanent member in the next movie. Idris Elba adds Krall to his already impressive resume of bad guys. The only problem I have with him is his motivation. In all three of these movies revenge has been the motivation for the bad guys and it’s wearying to me. Now that we’re getting more original stories let’s have some original motivations for the bad guys to be carrying on cranky, okay?

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And Starbase Yorktown is astoundingly impressive enough to deserve it’s own movie. I read a review of this movie where the writer said that if there’s ever a “Deep Space Nine” movie then it should look like Starbase Yorktown and I agree wholeheartedly.

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So should you see STAR TREK BEYOND? Chances are you’ve already seen it, especially if you’re a rabid “Star Trek” fan like me. But if you haven’t, by all means go see it. For me this has been a pretty sad movie year and STAR TREK BEYOND is one of the bright spots that reminds me why I go to the movies. Enjoy.

122 Minutes

Rated PG-13

The Jungle Book

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2016

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Jon Favreau

Produced by Jon Favreau and Brigham Taylor

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling

I am honestly not a fan of 3D at all. I consider it a novelty, a gimmick. Most of the time it’s distracting me from what I really want to do. Which is to get into the movie and enjoy it. I don’t get the fun of having things flying off the screen at me. On top of that, I wear glasses and I really don’t like to have to wear another pair just to watch a lousy movie. And I’ve really been pissed the past couple of years with what I perceive as a deliberate effort on the part of movie theaters to force people to see a movie in 3D. You know the scam: a theater will schedule multiple showings of the 3D version of the movie that you want to see and relatively few showings of the same movie in 2D (is that the correct term?) Nine times outta ten I opt to walk away from the movie or go see something else rather than be forced to see the movie in 3D.

Now, I say that to say this: if you can, then see THE JUNGLE BOOK in 3D.

As a baby, the man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is found wandering the savage jungles of India by the majestic black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who acts as his teacher/mentor. Bagheera gives Mowgli into the care of a wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and his mate Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mowgli is raised in the ways and laws of the wolf. But try as he might, Mowgli cannot quite keep up with his wolf siblings and has to resort to his human ingenuity at building tools to even things up.

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During the dry season, there is a truce called during the seasonal drought. This means that all the jungle denizens can gather at the local watering hole to drink in peace without fear of being eaten by the predators. It is here that the viciously bloodthirsty Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) learns of Mowgli’s existence. Shere Khan hates all men since they know the secret of making fire, which the animals call The Red Flower. Shere Khan’s scarred face is the result of his being burned by men. Shere Khan vows to keep the truce but only until the drought is over and then he will kill Mowgli.

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Not wishing to place his adoptive family in danger, Mowgli elects to leave on his own. Bagheera volunteers to escort Mowgli to the nearest village of men where he will be safe among his own kind from Shere Khan. But the wily tiger has anticipated this move and follows the pair. He ambushes them and while Bagheera holds off the tiger, Mowgli escapes. While waiting for Bagheera he falls under the hypnotic spell of the giant python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). Mowgli is rescued by Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). The two become fast friends and Mowgli agrees to stay with Baloo. Life is good until Bagheera shows up and convinces Baloo that he can’t protect Mowgli from Shere Khan. While they bark and bite over the fate of the man-cub, Mowgli is kidnapped by the Bandar-log (monkeys) who take them to their leader, the Gigantopithecus ape King Louie (Christopher Walken). The panther and the bear set off to rescue Mowgli. But even if Bagheera and Baloo can save their human friend from King Louie and his army of monkeys, Shere Khan is waiting for his opportunity to take his revenge…

You wanna know how much I enjoyed THE JUNGLE BOOK? Would you believe I actually forgot about the 3D? For one of the very few times I was watching a movie where the 3D did the job it’s supposed to do and pulled me into the movie and immersed me and enabled me to truly get lost in the story. And the CGI is spectacular. There’s just no other way to describe it. Visually this is one of the most impressive imaginary worlds I’ve seen on screen.

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Neel Sethi is a wonderful young actor. Although I’m sure he must have been reacting to a lot of things that weren’t there, this young man sells it without blinking an eye. He’s charming and looks as if he’s having a lot of fun and his expressive face works with his dialog in communicating to us at all times exactly what Mowgli is thinking and feeling.

I’m curious as to why such a big deal was made of Scarlett Johansson’s role as Kaa since it amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. Idris Elba steals every scene he’s in as Shere Khan and makes the character a truly terrifying, unpredictable force to be feared and reckoned with. And even though the movie isn’t a musical, I mean, c’mon…how can you not have Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities” and Christopher Walken sing “I Wan’na Be Like You”? Some will complain that the songs throw off the tone of the movie but I don’t think so. They’re lighter, whimsical moments that are nice homages to the 1967 animated “Jungle Book” as well as giving us a break from the more serious, darker elements of this version.

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So should you see THE JUNGLE BOOK? If you’re a fan of the original (and breathes there a living soul who isn’t?) then don’t waste anymore time. Go see it. People BMW about remakes but if they’re done with as much respect for the original as this one and with this level of technical, artistic and creative talent they can truly be a joy to watch and great way to spend an afternoon at the movies. Enjoy.

106 Minutes

Rated PG: But parents, be advised…there’s still some stuff here that might frighten the little ones, especially the scenes with Shere Khan. But then again, kids are pretty jaded these days and watch far more violent stuff at home so what do I know? Anyway, just thought I’d let you know.

The Gunman

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2015

Anton Capital Entertainment/Canal+/Silver Pictures/TF1 Films Production/Open Road Films

Directed by Pierre Morel

Produced by Adrian Guerra/Sean Penn/Peter McAleese/Andrew Rona/Joel Silver

Screenplay by Don Macpherson/Pete Travis/Sean Penn

Based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Just going by the trailers I saw for THE GUNMAN I figured that Sean Penn was throwing himself into the same pool that Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and their ilk are already swimming in: becoming a credible and legitimate Action Movie Hero even being over the age of 50. And actually, being over 50 works for Sean Penn in this role as he’s now got a face that looks lived in. It’s the face of a man who’s experienced life.

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Now to be fair, Sean Penn was never any rival to Rob Lowe or Keanu Reeves in the looks department even when he was younger. But one thing I like about the Over 50 Action Movie Hero is that these guys look like Men and not like little pretty boys playing Tough Guy. Sean Penn could have a career in Action Movies just going on physicality alone. Seriously, the cat has been doing some working out. In the theater I saw THE GUNMAN in, I heard quite a few gasps from the ladies during scenes where Sean Penn had his shirt off. His musculature is quite impressive. Such a shame that the movie itself isn’t as impressive. Halfway through the movie I also heard quite a few snores.  Liam Neeson’s got nothing to worry about. If THE GUNMAN is the best Sean Penn can come up with then he needs to rethink this whole Action Movie thing.

Movie review: 'Gunman' shows Penn preachy, violent and a bit out-of-date

Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a member of a covert black ops team of military contractors working in The Congo. They’re undercover, waiting for their opportunity to assassinate a high level minister who is standing in the way of a major western corporation lusting after The Congo’s mineral wealth they wish to exploit. It’s Jim who actually pulls the trigger on the minister and is forced to flee, leaving behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) to seek comfort in the arms of Jim’s friend Felix (Javier Bardem) who plays his role so broadly he does everything but wear a billboard saying: “You Will Curse Me For My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal”

Years later, Jim is working as a volunteer in a African village and seems to have put his violent past behind him. Not. A hit team comes to take Jim out and instead gets took. Jim connects the dots based on things the members of the hit team said and their equipment and deduces that somebody wants him dead for the assassination he did. But who? Is it Felix who is now married to Annie and doesn’t appreciate Jim coming back to break up his happy home? Is it Cox (Mark Rylance) another member of the team who is now the CEO of his own international military contracting corporation? Whose side is Interpol agent Barnes (Idris Elba) on? Jim bounces from London to Barcelona and back, trusting only in the assistance of his former mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) to help him figure out who’s trying to kill him and why.

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Sounds like exciting stuff, don’t it? And somewhere in THE GUNMAN there is a solid, pulpy action thriller. Unfortunately director Pierre Morel forgot the action and instead we get long stretches of dialog between Penn and the other members of the cast as they debate the morality of privatized military corporations, international politics, the raping of Third World resources by the U.S. and half a dozen other weighty subjects that are certainly relevant and need to be discussed. But not in a movie that bills itself as an action thriller and was directed by Pierre Morel, the man who directed the first “Taken” and “District B13” one of the best and most high octane Action Movies ever made.

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Sean Penn is certainly game and his (few) fight scenes and gunfights show that he’s got the chops for this kind of stuff. But the painfully slow pace of the movie and the overcooking of the plot works against him. Sean Penn’s acting certainly isn’t at fault here. Like Liam Neeson, he actually can act and that gives an Action Movie of this sort more gravitas than it actually needs. But Neeson knows how to make that work for him and Penn hasn’t mastered that yet. THE GUNMAN could have done with less with speeches about corporate imperialism and the destabilization of the Congo and more with a goofy dose of pure adrenaline. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.

Rated R

115 Minutes

No Good Deed

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2014

Screen Gems

Directed by Sam Miller

Produced by Will Packer and Lee Clay

Executive Produced by Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Aimee Lagos, Lindsay Williams, Gleen S. Gainor, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Rob Hardy

Written by Aimee Lagos

I’ve always said that true racial equality will be established in this country when black actors/filmmakers can make romantic comedies and generic thrillers as badly as their white counterparts. That’s not to say that NO GOOD DEED is altogether a bad movie. Matter of fact I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a good time I was having watching it. I was never scared for the safety of certain characters or worried that the movie wasn’t going to play out exactly the way it did. But it sure was entertaining to watch.  But here’s the thing: it’s actually a movie where the ethnicity of the characters have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Seriously. The racial make-up of four of the main characters could be switched and have no effect on all on how the situations in the movie play out. Because in NO GOOD DEED the black characters make the same dumb mistakes white characters do and have done in similar movies that have been made for the past forty or fifty years. But since two of the main characters are played by Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they play their parts so well, we’re committed to seeing how this By-The-Numbers home invasion thriller plays out.

Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is a man who has…how shall I put it?…very serious issues with women. He’s the main suspect in the disappearance of five young ladies but there was no proof to put him away. What he was put away for was manslaughter, having killed a man in barroom brawl. Denied his parole he escapes while being returned to prison, killing two guards in the process.

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He then shows up at the home of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson) whose husband Jeffrey (Henry Simmons) is away for the weekend. Terri has tried to explain to her husband how badly she needs some adult company as she gave up her career as a lawyer to be a full-time stay at home mom, taking care of the infant Sam and young daughter Ryan.  It’s a plea that falls on deaf ears. But her best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) offers to come by for a girls night and is surprised to find Colin there. Terri explains that Colin had a car accident and is waiting for a tow truck. It doesn’t take long before Terri thinks that maybe there’s something really wrong with her unexpected houseguest. Little things like the phone lines being cut…all the knives in the kitchen knife set block disappearing…and then Meg herself disappearing…

If you’ve been watching movies as long as I have then there’s not a single blessed thing in NO GOOD DEED that is going to surprise you. Well, maybe one thing that I wouldn’t dream of giving away. But on the whole this is a pretty standard thriller that is elevated by the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Who must have had some kind of deal with the cameraman as I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a movie where the leading lady had so many gratuitous butt shots. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But if you go see the movie, count the number of times you get a shot of Ms. Henson’s derriere for apparently no reason at all and then tell me I’m wrong.

The game of cat-and-mouse between Elba and Henson is highly interesting just on the strength of their considerable acting ability. Elba does curiously stimulating things with the conversations he initiates with Henson that appeals to this attention deprived woman.  I gotta admit that I watched in grudging admiration how this seriously deranged man is able to be charming and personable enough to be able to talk his way into this woman’s house. A woman who due to her background should know better than anybody else why you should never let a stranger into your house.

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Once the ante is upped and all the pretense between them dropped the movie then really gets going in an unexpected direction that will have you wondering exactly why the Idris Elba character is doing the things he’s doing but here comes that plot twist and the one “Ah-HA!” in the entire movie.

So should you see NO GOOD DEED? If you go see it, trust me that you’re not going to see it for deep characterization. The movie is a wonderfully lean 84 minutes which means that there is absolutely no fat on it at all. There’s just enough characterization to keep the movie’s plot going and that’s all the movie is: pure plot. Not that that’s a bad thing. A McDonald’s cheeseburger is designed to be a McDonald’s cheeseburger and no more. So it’s stupid to complain that it’s not a White Castle murderburger. If you want a White Castle murderburger then go to White Castle. NO GOOD DEED is designed to be an entertaining time waster, no more, no less. So don’t go in expecting it to be “Night of The Hunter” or “Wait Until Dark.”  But what enriches it and gives it an extra shot of adrenaline are the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they do their jobs exceptionally well and made this one worth my time and money.

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Rated PG-13

84 Minutes

Prometheus

2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Ridley Scott, David Giler and Walter Hill

Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof

Like most of you, upon hearing that Ridley Scott was filming a prequel to “Alien” I got as giddy as a 10 year old hearing that a law has been passed making every day Christmas.  The current age of filmmaking we live in now is one where movies I never dreamed would be made are coming to cinematic life.  And Ridley Scott returning to the “Alien” universe is most certainly one of those things I never thought would happen.  “Alien” is for me the definitive blending of horror and science-fiction film because it works so well as both.  And so many other thing went into it to contribute to its rightful place as a film masterpiece: the look of the film itself.  Between “Alien” “Blade Runner” and “Outland” we would never again have science fiction movies set in the future that looked like movie sets.  We now had future worlds that looked lived in with machines that looked functional and practical, not like priceless sculpture.  The casting of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley who became the template for female action heroes in the movies.  Surely with Ridley Scott directing a new movie set in the same universe PROMETHEUS would be a cinematic experience worthy to stand alongside that work of art.

Sorry to disappoint you but it doesn’t.  At least not for me.  The look of the movie is spectacular with sets that are absolutely amazing and flat-out beautiful special effects, especially during a terrifying sandstorm and a scene where one of the characters discovers a breathtaking holographic star map showing the way to Earth.  PROMETHEUS is watchable and worth looking at but that’s all it is.

It’s the year 2093 and aboard the trillion dollar starship PROMETHEUS, the crew is awakening from cryonic stasis sleep after two years of travel to their destination.  Which is a small moon that archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they’ll find evidence of beings they call The Engineers.  Their theory is that The Engineers are direct forefathers of humanity.  To prove this theory,  the billionaire founder and CEO of the Weyland Corproration, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has had this ship built and sends a crew along with Elizabeth and Charlie.  The crew includes the captain, Janek (Idris Elba) Weyland Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and David (Michael Fassbender) an android who acts as pretty much a glorified hi-tech gofer.  There are other crewmembers but it’s hardly worth mentioning them as they’re there just to have really terrible things happen to them.

Upon landing on the moon, an exploration team investigates a huge structure, discovering that an entire crescent shaped starship is inside.  They discover corpses of humanoid beings they assume are Engineers and strange stone cylinders.  Charlie becomes infected with a strange dark liquid inside of a stone cylinder David has snuck on board the ship and from then on, things continue to go horribly wrong.  So wrong that the crew of the PROMETHEUS are forced to make a decision between their own survival and that of the human race.

Okay, let me get what I didn’t like out of the way so that I can end this review on a high note with what I did like.  PROMETHEUS is one of those movies where people go where they have absolutely no business going and then run around screaming because that decision bites them in the ass.  And in this case I mean that quite literally.  The story really didn’t grab me and the poor characterization didn’t help either.  Most of the characters in this movie are just there, relying on visuals like wearing hoodies and mohawks so that we can tell them apart.  There are some scenes that are meant to be frightening and scary but to me were just laughable.  Especially the scene that inspired me to dub Noomi Rapace’s character ‘Elizabeth the OctoMom.’  If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about.  Idris Elba, one of my favorite actors is totally wasted in this movie.  At least Charlize Theron gets to have some fun playing the icy executive who makes it clear to one and all she doesn’t want to be on this mission.  Theron’s character is the only one displaying any kind of common sense which makes her stand out even more.

Noomi Rapace continues to add to her resume of solid performances as she plays a women of strength with intelligence and compassion.  Her struggle to reconcile her scientific discipline with her religious faith is well done.  But it’s Michael Fassbender who walks away with the acting honors.  For an android, David displays more personality than anybody else in the crew and has more of a sense of wonder about their discoveries than the humans.  He also has a goofy sense of humor that manifests itself in very unexpected ways.

So should you see PROMETHEUS?  Most of you reading this probably already have and are either wishing a pox upon my house or defriending me on Facebook for some of the things I’ve already said.  But for those of you who aren’t let me say this: I’m not saying PROMETHEUS is a bad movie.  It’s not.  It’s a Ridley Scott movie and the man knows how to make a movie, no doubt about it. The problem lies in the story which simply doesn’t live up to the huge cosmic themes it raises and the lack of characterizations.  Everybody turns in solid performances as best they can (but what was up with that accent, Idris?) and technically you couldn’t ask for better.   But on a level with “Alien”?  Nah.  Not even close.

124 minutes

Rated R