Ridley Scott

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

American Gangster

2007

Universal Pictures

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Brain Grazer and Ridley Scott

Screenplay by Steve Zaillian

Based on the article “The Return of Superfly” by Mark Jacobson

This isn’t the first time that Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe have squared off against each other in a movie.  Anybody remember the 1995 sci-fi thriller “Virtuosity”?  In that one, Denzel Washington was the cop and Russell Crowe was the bad guy, a virtual reality serial killer unleashed on the real world.  In the years between “Virtuosity” and AMERICAN GANGSTER both actors have made an impressive amount of really fine films and they’ve both won Best Actor Oscars.  Both men have achieved a level of respect and professional achievement that few actors today can claim.  And separately just their names are enough to guarantee a big weekend box office.  So putting them together again in a movie should assure us of some really outstanding scenes between the two of them since both men have done nothing but get better at their craft since 1995, right?

I wish I could say it was so but AMERICAN GANGSTER is a lot like the Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino crime thriller “Heat” or Robert DeNiro/Kevin Costner in “The Untouchables” in that for most of the movie we’re following two separate but intertwined storylines and we have to wait about two hours before we get to what we want to see: the two main actors going at it.  It’s worth the wait to finally see Denzel and Russell face to face, trust me on that but the few scenes they have together are so good you can’t help but wish they had more of them.

It’s the 1970’s and Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) has inherited the crime empire of his boss, the legendary Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson who has passed away from an unexpected heart attack.  Frank doesn’t waste time in consolidating his power.  To do this he intends to control the heroin traffic in Harlem by cutting out any and all middlemen and making a deal directly with the supplier.  Frank himself flies to Bangkok and with the help of his cousin (Roger Guenveur Smith) he strikes a deal for a previously unheard of amount of heroin that is 100% pure.  He gives it a brand name: ‘Blue Magic’ and sells his product for half the price of his competitors.  Frank brings up his family from North Carolina, including his elderly mother (Ruby Dee) and buys a huge mansion estate for them all to live in.  He makes his five brothers his lieutenants and they proceed to make money.  A whole lot of money.

Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) isn’t having as much fun in his life as Frank is in his.  Ritchie’s wife is divorcing him because of his constant womanizing and his single-minded devotion to his job.  Ritchie is such an honest cop that he turns in a million bucks to his superiors without even thinking for a minute about keeping it for himself.  It’s simple for him because he looks at it simply: the money was made illegally.  He’s a cop.  Cops don’t take illegal money.  Haw.  Remember that this is back in the 1970’s when police corruption in New York was just part of the job.  Ritchie is ostracized by his fellow officers and so he jumps at the chance when his boss (Ted Levine) gives him a chance to head up his own squad of Untouchables who will target the high-level drug dealers.  No nickel-and-dime dealers.  Ritchie’s investigations eventually lead him to Frank Lucas who has managed to stay under the radar for so long because he doesn’t go in for the flashy pimped out lifestyle of his peers like Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Not Frank.  He dresses in conservative business suits and takes his momma to church every Sunday.  He doesn’t get high off his own supply and he runs his organization with a professionalism that makes him the gangland equivalent of Donald Trump.

Frank intrigues Ritchie who is amazed that a black man could amass so much wealth and power that even old school Mafia kingpins like Dominic Gattano (Armand Assante) give him respect and he’s determined to take Frank down.  It’s not going to be an easy job as Ritchie has no idea how Frank is smuggling his product into the United States and there’s a crooked cop (Josh Brolin) who is making life hell for both Frank and Ritchie.  The lives of these two men intersect at a very critical juncture in their lives and once they join together their story has a unique twist.

AMERICAN GANGSTER works extremely hard at wanting to be an epic crime drama.  But I actually think it works more as a character study of the two men, Frank Lucas and Ritchie Roberts.  Frank Lucas is a cold-blooded killer who can set a man on fire without blinking and sell heroin to children without losing a night’s sleep.  But he also provides for his family, instills a (twisted) set of business values and ethics in his brothers and faithfully attends church every Sunday.  Ritchie Roberts is a helluva cop who chases bad guys by day and goes to law school at night.  He’s also a neglectful father and a lousy husband.  Family values is an elusive concept for Ritchie who seems genuinely puzzled that his wife doesn’t accept his womanizing and off-hour association with the lowlife of New York City.  I think that director Ridley Scott spends so much time on the separate stories of these two men, both of who are looking for The American Dream in their own way and allows us to examine their moral values and ethical codes and he wants us to make up our minds as to what we think of how they achieve it.

Ridley Scott is a strange choice for this type of straight-up crime thriller.  I think perhaps the closest he’s come to a movie like this is 1989’s “Black Rain” starring Michael Douglas.  Ridley Scott is not the first director you think of when it comes to crime thrillers.  In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Carl Franklin I think the movie would have had more bite to it.  As it is Scott focuses more on how these two men conduct their business and their relationships to those around them.  As a result you’re not going to find over-the-top violence such as in “Scarface” “Goodfellas” or “The Departed”.  There is violence, sure.  But it’s handled in an almost documentary like manner.

Denzel Washington turns in his usual outstanding performance as Frank Lucas.  By now we’re all so used to Denzel being so good that it’s no surprise that we’re not able to take our eyes off him when he’s on the screen.  He’s gotten really good at playing bad guys.  And Russell Crowe is easily his equal in acting ability.  Separately they create fully realized characters and both men do more in a scene by saying nothing than other actors do with ten minutes of dialog.  They’re just that good.  And they’re backed up by an equally impressive supporting cast.  Ruby Dee has a really splendid scene where she has to talk Frank down from doing something really stupid and the honesty of the scene comes right out of the screen and grabs you by the shoulders.  Josh Brolin as Detective Trupo steps up his game considerably.  He has scenes with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe and damn if he doesn’t hold his own with the both of them.  It’s an impressive acting job he does here.  Chiwetel Ejiofor and Common have roles as two of Frank’s brothers.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. continues his streak as the most puzzling actor of all time.  Why does this man continue to waste his talent in unfunny so-called comedies when he has such a gift for dramatic roles?  His five minutes as Nicky Barnes in AMERICAN GANGSTER beats out the entirety of “Boat Trip” “Rat Race” and “Snow Dogs” all put together.

I was puzzled by Joe Morton’s character of Charlie Williams who in appearance is a near dead ringer for Gordon Parks.  His character’s relationship to Frank Lucas is never really explained.  He shows up every now and then, gives Frank some sage words of wisdom and then he’s gone.  And while we’re on the subject the relationship between Frank Lucas and his wife Eva (Lymari Nadal) isn’t all that satisfying either.  Despite the scene where Frank goes ballistic on Dominic Gattano when a hit on Frank goes wrong and his wife is almost killed I wasn’t convinced that either of them were ever that much in love with the other.

So should you see AMERICAN GANGSTER?  If you’re a fan of Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe then you probably already have.  And with good reason.  Both men are at the top of their game right now and watching them work is truly a pleasure.  The supporting cast does their job and backs up the leads superbly.  The direction is realistic and not unnecessarily bombastic.  And no, I don’t think that AMERICAN GANGSTER is the great crime epic it aspires to be but it is solid entertainment that’s worth your time to watch.

157 minutes

Rated R

 

Blade Runner: The Theatrical Version

1982

Warner Bros.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Produced by Michael Deeley

Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples

Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick

There’s a good reason why BLADE RUNNER is still hailed as a masterpiece of science fiction/neo-noir/detective pulp filmmaking today.  It’s just that good.  This is the movie; along with “Alien” released two years earlier defined the look and feel of science fiction movies for the next thirty years.  BLADE RUNNER is innovative in a lot of ways but most of all in the way it presented the future.  Of course, for us living in 2011 which isn’t so far away from the 2019 depicted in the movie we can get a chuckle at how far off the movie is in predicting where we would be.

But you look at the movie and what pulls you in is how lived in it looks.  This is no sterile “Logan’s Run” future where everything is clean and shiny.  This is a nasty future with dirt, grim, filth, machines that are made to be functional not pretty.  People wear real clothes with wrinkles that need to be washed.  There are billboards everywhere urging you to buy, buy, buy.  The streets are clogged with pedestrians that walk too fast who cuss at cars that honk at pedestrians who walk too slowly.  All the people don’t look pretty. In fact they look bored, worn down, used up, tired.  Kinda like the people you pass everyday on your way to and home from work, right?

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is enjoying his retirement.  Once an honored member of L.A.’s Blade Runner Squad, he got sick of it and quit.  You see, his job was killing.  Killing Replicants.  Genetically engineered humanoids created by The Tyrell Corporation as slave labor for Earth’s off-world colonies.  The Replicants are stronger, faster and smarter than humans.  In fact, The Tyrell Corporation claims that their new Nexus-6 models are “More Human Than Human”.  And maybe they are.  Six of them prove resourceful enough to make it back to Earth and Los Angeles.  Which is where the Blade Runners comes in.

Deckard is pressed back into service by his old boss Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and Bryant’s brown-noser Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to hunt down and retire the Nexus-6 Replicants.  It won’t be easy as they’re the most advanced Replicant models.  And they are determined to get to their creator Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and find a way to extend their four-year life span.  Deckard has to navigate through a minefield of humans and Replicants, all with their own agenda and their own plans to discover the truth of what being human means.  At the end of this tangled road is Rachel (Sean Young) a Replicant who believes is human and puts her trust and love in Deckard.  A man who comes to question his own humanity as the line between Human and Replicant becomes more blurred in his relentless pursuit of his quarry.

I love BLADE RUNNER.  That’s the simplest and best way I can put it.  I saw it during its original theatrical run, loved it then and I still love it now.  Mostly because of the way that it depicts at the future by looking back.

Let me explain: even though BLADE RUNNER is a movie about the future, there are a lot of throwbacks to the past which make the movie look even more futuristic simply because we haven’t seen stuff like this in movies in a long time.  Rachel’s hair styles and clothing, inspired by Joan Crawford’s look of the 1930’s.  Deckard’s clothing and trenchcoat, inspired by private eyes of the 50’s.  The gritty, noir-ish look of the city with its rain-swept streets.   The reto-technology.   The multi-cultural look of the movie which implies that Los Angeles of the future is a Third World culture unto itself.

At the time this movie was made Harrison Ford was #1 at the box office.  And why not?  He was starring in two major movie franchises and he took the BLADE RUNNER job to expand his range.  And I think he pulled it off extremely well.  There’s a real Humphrey Bogart-ish quality to his performance in this one.  The role of Deckard is obviously meant to be a throwback to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and it works.  Again, the whole success of this movie lies in the setting and technology reaching to the future while the clothing, attitudes and style of filmmaking reaches to the past.  It an extraordinary melding of past and future that many films have tried to copy but only BLADE RUNNER captured and captured exceedingly well.

Sean Young quickly got a reputation in Hollywood as being exceeding difficult to work which hampered her from getting more work which is really a shame.  She’s astoundingly good in this movie and I again point to her Joan Crawford-influenced make-up, wardrobe and style of acting as to why.  Rutger Hauer steals the movie in terms of acting.  As Roy Batty his final speech has gone down in movie history.  And rightly so.  Few movie characters have died in such a memorable fashion as Roy Batty.  Daryl Hannah, Brion James and Joanna Cassidy all turn in strong performances as Replicants as well as William Sanderson as a genetic designer who considers Replicants his children.

So should you see BLADE RUNNER?  Chances are you already have.  At least one of the several versions available.  There’s a Director’s Cut.  A Final Director’s Cut.  An Ultimate Final Director’s Cut.  An Ultimate Platinum Final Director’s Cut and who knows how many others.  Last I heard there were seven versions available.  My recommendation?  Start with the Theatrical Version so you can see it the way we saw it back in 1982 and then go from there.  But any way you see BLADE RUNNER, by all means see it and enjoy it.

116 minutes

Rated: R