I was so disappointed… instead of the tough, capable Weaver or Rapace, we get a bunch of panicky crew members who make very bad decisions, leading to all of their deaths and leaving evil android David in charge of thousands of frozen would-be colonists. These people have no capacity for fighting, thinking clearly in an emergency situation, or prioritizing… and for some reason everyone in the crew is a married couple, so when their partner dies they become useless. More importantly, it’s no fun watching them walk into traps that we Alien-movie vets easily see coming and just die unceremoniously. Each movie brought something new to the table until this one, which only rehashes things we’ve seen before.

But then I was pondering on the way home – maybe this bunch of useless, easily dispatched characters was assembled on purpose. David says something about humans being a failed species on the evidence that they need a space colonization program in the first place, that it’s worth letting them die, and he’s going to make sure it happens. Maybe this is the opinion of Ridley and the umpteen writers, and they prove their point by having humanity’s most vital mission entrusted to these bozos. The Alien series stories always featured individuals fiercely triumphing over adversity, over external forces and internal human greed, and now Ridley has given his corporate lords another space-massacre movie to sell, but he no longer sees a society worth saving.

Captain Billy Crudup is a Christian, which is mentioned every time he’s on screen to diminished effect from the Prometheus origin-story wonderings. He lasts a good while, is finally replaced by the Carey Mulligan-looking Katherine Waterston (Queen of Earth, Inherent Vice) down on the planet and Cowboy Danny McBride (of mostly James Franco movies) in the ship. The star, of course, is Michael Fassbender as both drama queen David and buttoned-up Walter. They are identical-ish, and in the finale they switch places and you totally can’t tell except that you’ve been expecting it the entire movie, then you know they’ve switched places and you’re waiting for the rest of the characters to discover it and it’s exasperating, then finally it’s too late and you think “good, to hell with humanity.”

Ehrlich called it “majestically shot” and Matt Lynch said “gorgeous,” hmmm, maybe I was sitting too close? Also, come to think of it, David also genocides an entire planet of those bald guys from Prometheus, so maybe it’s less anti-humanity than anti-life.

A definite step up from Knight of Cups, and it’s the first Malick I’ve been able to see in theaters since Tree of Life, so I was thrillingly overwhelmed with all the big-screen majesty. It’s also less distracted from story and character than usual – the camera sticks with our four leads instead of wandering into the woods looking for sunlight behind leaves.

Carrying on in the shoes of world-weary architect Sean Penn, brooding broken-family-man Ben Affleck, and tortured screenwriter Christian Bale, we’ve got up-and-coming musicians Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara. They’d make a cute couple, but get caught up with wickedly charismatic, morally corrosive industry man Michael Fassbender, end up going on their own journeys around the edges of music festivals, while Fassbender latches onto innocent waitress Natalie Portman, spoils and destroys her.

It’s another universal soul-searching story, not about the music business any more than Knight of Cups was about filmmaking or To The Wonder was about environmental inspection, much to the disappointment of music bloggers who watched it at SXSW hoping for the ultimate music-festival film but getting only brief scenes of Iggy Pop and John Lydon, glimpses of Rooney Mara onstage with a guitar, and a recurring, philosophizing Patti Smith.

Sicinski didn’t love it:

Here we see Malick’s cultural conservatism once again in play, where music is a mere conduit for parsing out Manichean divisions of Good (Ryan Gosling, “creation”) and Evil (Fassbender, “the business”). Mara is presented as the Lost One, who has to go through various stages of Pensive Narration (and some awfully random lesbianism) to find her way to the Good. Her initial desire, to “live from song to song,” must be replaced by broader, more complex (narrative) thinking, a love that moves toward a telos. This is incredibly condescending; we know that Malick has a Woman Problem, and Song to Song pretty much rolls it out for all to see.

At a time when movies are dominated by comics, Bryan Singer’s got a franchise all to himself. He directed parts 1 and 2, cowrote and produced part 4, directed parts 5 and 6… and had nothing to do with part 3. “At least we can all agree: the third one‘s always the worst,” says Jean Grey leaving a Return of the Jedi screening, establishing our mid-1980’s setting while letting us know Singer’s thoughts on the Brett Ratner entry. Soon after, Quicksilver tells someone that Magneto is his father, and I can’t tell if we’re still making Star Wars references.

Quicksilver:

Quicksilver and Nightcrawler in the same movie is a dream come true – every time they warp through time and space it’s thrilling. The Professor X vs. Magneto thing is old hat by now, nobody cares about Agent Rose Byrne, Beast is okay and Mystique is blah. Oscar Isaac appears as his unconscious self for ten seconds before becoming Apocalypse and ceasing to be Oscar Isaac completely – it’s either an immersive performance or a total waste of a promising young actor in a role that could’ve been played by a CG-enhanced mannequin. As always, the ending hinges on whether Magneto is truly evil or can be convinced to compromise.

Apocalypse and his Horsemen: Storm, Angel, and this lightsaber girl, the fourth horseman being Magneto, who becomes evil again out of rage when his perfect wife and kid are murdered by some doomed motherfuckers in Poland where he’s hiding out after whatever happened in part four.

Since I don’t rewatch the movies and the first one was nearly two decades ago, it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and timelines and paradoxes, but I assume the writers have this stuff taken care of, and the fact that Angel dies in 1984 but is back in part three (?) makes sense to someone. Also, I keep seeing Jubilee in the credits for X-Men movies – who the hell is Jubilee?

Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is Young Jean Grey, seen here with Young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan of Mud) and Beast:

I notice Days of Future Past and this movie bringing back Stryker (Brian Cox’s character in part two) as a minor baddie, and I assume he’s the tie-in to the solo Wolverine films, none of which I’ve seen. And coincidentally, the week after watching this movie I saw a trailer for the third one of those, Logan, which looks awful.

Some uncomfortable politics as usual, bringing up Auschwitz yet again, and having a middle-eastern villain watching American news footage of 1980’s decadence and decrying our false idols and weak leaders. Also Professor X’s chamber where he can spy on the thoughts of anyone in the world hasn’t aged so well. Better to focus on the series’ overall focus on acceptance of difference, but even that has taken a back seat to the action scenes since part two.

Wow, not only was this a return to the high quality of the second film, it also justifies the existence of the boring fourth film and goes back in time to erase the events of the stupid third film, single-handedly resurrecting the franchise from mediocrity. Actually I’m not positive about the order of events of the older movies and how this time travel affects them, but in the repaired future, Wolverine is happy to see Cyclops and Jean alive again and didn’t they die in part 3? Anyway this is the most excited I’ve felt about comic movies since 2004.

So in a future run by mutant-killing Sentinels, a small team survives by having Ellen Page send Bishop (Omar Sy of Intouchables) back in time a few days to warn when the sentinels are approaching. Wolverine (alongside Old X/Magneto) thinks he can be sent back further, so he heads for the 1970’s to reunite Young X/Magneto and keep Mystique from killing Sentinel architect Peter Dinklage, and maybe convince the scared humans that some mutants are alright and shouldn’t all be exterminated.

Prison guard vs. Quicksilver and a few rolls of duct tape:

Who Were All Those Mutants:
Beast returns from the prequel, but Azazel, Banshee, Angel and I think either Frost or Riptide have already been killed in backstory. Survivors in the sentinel-future include good ol’ Storm, portal-creating Blink, knifey Warpath, fiery Sunspot, icy Iceman, and metal-skinned Colossus. I barely remember Iceman and Colossus from part 3, thought for a minute that they and Sunspot might be from the Fantastic Four. Helping break Magneto out of another non-metal prison is the great Quicksilver. Rogue wasn’t even in the movie, though she’s in the credits – I was hoping to watch the extended “rogue cut” in theatrical re-release but it’s apparently not playing here and I got impatient. Stryker is introduced in the 70’s, and Toad gets a small role.

Also: apparently 1970’s tech allowed for DNA proximity readers, giant non-metal robot creation, and unexplained combinations of DNA with the robots.

Major prequelitis, all about its digi-effects and massive Henry “Hugh” Jackman score. X and Magneto are buddies, meeting a bunch more friendly mutants and trying to defeat Kevin Bacon, who starts the Cuban Missile Crisis and killed Magneto’s mom. At least Oliver Platt and Michael Fassbender were good. And at least, since it’s a male-driven comic movie, all the girls get sexy and half-naked.

Sexy J-Jones:

Sexy J-Lawrence:

Mutant Round-Up: Magneto (Fassbender), X (James McAvoy), energy-consuming, anti-psychic-helmet-creating Shaw (Bacon). Shaw’s crew: disappearing devil Azazel (Jason Flemyng, chasin’ women), diamond-fleshed psychic Frost (January Jones of Mad Men), tornado-chuckin’ Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), fire-breathing dragonfly Angel (Zoe Kravitz). X’s crew: Beast (Nicholas Hoult, Firth-stalker in A Single Man), scream/flying Banshee (Caleb Jones of Antiviral), energy-whip-shooting Havoc (Lucas Till), easily killed gill-man Darwin (Edi Gathegi of Gone Baby Gone), shapeshiftin’ Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and their no-powers CIA contact Rose Byrne (Sunshine, Insidious).

Sexy Byrne:

Sexy Kravitz:

IMDB says Azazel and Mystique are Nightcrawler’s parents, and that Bryan Singer couldn’t be arsed to direct since he was devoting four years of his life to Jack The Giant Slayer. Vaughn later made Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I didn’t watch on the plane since they had a lousy looking, censored version.

Mighty Morphin’ Bacon in nuclear mirror room:

Finally, justice for Chiwetel. McQueen’s follow-up to Shame, which I skipped. I was bracing for a no-holds-barred art film, but it’s closer to a typical Hollywood drama than Hunger was, based on the real guy’s memoir and adapted by John Ridley (Three Kings, Red Tails).

Chiwetel is kidnapped by circus tricksters and sold to Django Unchained vet Chris Berry, who immediately kills fellow slave Omar and throws him overboard. Chiwetel is auctioned by Paul Giamatti to relatively-decent Benedict Cumberbatch, but pisses off watcher Paul Dano and so is sent to Fassbender’s place. Fass is fucking female slave Lupita Nyong’o and Fass’s wife Sarah Paulson knows it – guess which of those three will get the shit end of the stick (or the whip). Chiwetel seeks help from Garret Dillahunt, who sells him out, finally gets it from forward-thinking Canadian Brad Pitt.

Amazing story, certainly a well-made and well-acted movie, but the closing titles leave things depressingly unresolved and one yearns for some Django-style payback. IMDB lists the previous adaptation, starring Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame, as a comedy/drama!

Back with his rival/writer Lem Dobbs of The Limey and Kafka, but I don’t see much point in celebrating the reunion since this was a straightforward double-crossed super-spy story. If not for the Soderbergh name and the A-list cast that always follows the Soderbergh name, this would be filler content on HBO starring Edward Furlong or the like. I’m starting to think that I’ve been suckered into believing that Soderbergh is some important auteur, when really he just makes slick entertainments rather well. But I guess he goes back and forth – some turns out better than others – and this one is firmly on the slick-entertainments side of things.

The reviews focused entirely on whether action hero Gina Carano can act in the non-action scenes, and the answer is “well enough”. More surprising is that the stars (particularly Fassbender and Tater) can keep up with Gina in the fighting scenes, also well enough.

Gina is a spy/mercenary/thing working for Ewan McGregor’s private organization, rescues a Chinese fellow from kidnappers along with her buddy “Tater” Channing, then accepts a quick follow-up assignment with British agent Michael Fassbender at the house of Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie‘s photo-booth boyfriend), where she finds the dead Chinese guy, realizes she’s being framed, gets jumped by Fassbender and shoots him dead after a struggle.

But wait, the movie starts in the middle, where she’s met by Tater in a diner while being tracked by Ewan’s people, kicks Tater’s ass but does not kill him, then kidnaps a dude named Scott (the kid who was shot by Stephen Root in Red State) to escape. Now she’s off to clear her name, tracking down Ewan (traitor with a bad haircut who gets left to drown Ted Danson-style), Tater (killed by Ewan), Michael Douglas (gov’t good guy who helps slightly). We know the big baddie at the end will be Antonio Banderas, since we saw him with a Castro beard early in the film then he never came back, and he wouldn’t just have the one cameo. Help also comes from her dad Bill Paxton (his first movie since 2007, and the first I’ve heard of since ’04).

According to the IMDB, shot and edited by Soderbergh under pseudonyms, well enough.

A frustrating movie, because even while watching the two-hour theatrical version opening week, we knew that Ridley Scott has been talking up his extended director’s cut for blu-ray. But Ridley learned nothing from the Lord of the Rings model, cutting out really important stuff instead of fun but unnecessary scenes of hobbits singing, leaving the two-hour version full of plot holes, confusing explanations and out-of-character behavior. At least that’s what I generously assume to be the case, that the movie made perfect sense before the cuts, because otherwise how would a mega-expensive-looking star-studded major film arrive in theaters full of massive story problems that nobody noticed?

I admit the story problems and look forward to watching Ridley’s second (and third, and fourth) edit on my little laptop screen. But I still loved the theatrical version, unlike every single person I’ve heard mention it, because it’s simply the most amazing looking and sounding movie I’ve seen in theaters for a year or more. The picture (2D) is clear, with seamless effects, and I must’ve lucked out and got the only screen in Atlanta with properly calibrated surround sound. I’ve thought I was past the point of being impressed by massive explosions and outer-space action scenes, but I guess everyone else (looking at you, Michael Bay) has just been doing ’em wrong.

Two archaeologists (Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Dragon Tattoo trilogy and Logan Marshall-Green of Devil) discover star maps in prehistoric cave paintings, so a mega-rich old man (played by Guy Pearce in distracting old-age makeup) sends a space exhibition led by a sleek, evil Charlize Theron to check it out. Logan is given black-oil sickness by android Michael Fassbender, impregnates Noomi with an alien. Also on board are pilot Idris Elba, punk miner Sean Harris (Ian Curtis in 24 Hour Party People) and other guys who will be killed in interesting ways.

There’s some religious mumbo, with secret (but easily predicted) stowaway Pearce wanting to confront our creators, the giant, pale muscular men, and ask why they created us. But I could’ve sworn the scientists said at least twice that they’re an “exact genetic match” with us – so they didn’t create us, they are us. Right? And if I got this straight, the planet to which the map led the Earth explorers isn’t the home planet of any race, but an outpost where they were creating biological alien weapons. And when the one living pale guy awakens from cryo-sleep, he sets to destroying Earth, as if that was his plan all along. Anyway, lot of questions, but ultimately I enjoyed the spectacle and think the movie is interesting enough to find the unanswered questions tantalizing, looking forward to sequels or deleted scenes, not blowing off the movie as badly written.

dissenting opinion from R. Brody in the New Yorker:

Scott is the perfect former TV commercial director: he doesn’t invent images but decorates them and lights them to set a consistent mood, which he then maintains, without surprises. He tells you what to feel, or not even—he tells you to admire his ability to get you to feel one thing, whether it’s worth feeling or, in this case, not. As in a TV commercial, the amount of money spent on production design is a part of the movie’s import; the sets and the effects might as well have their price tags dangling from them … he took the same laborious pompier style as fell flat in Robin Hood and attempted to justify it with a ponderous subject. The movie lacks any joyful sense of discovery, such as emerges (intermittently) through the vainglorious bombast of Alien.

But then instead Brody praises the “exuberance” and lack of self-important seriousness of Benjamin Buttons. If he had more fun at The Ben Buttons than at Prometheus, we can learn nothing from each other.

June 2015:
Now that I’ve watched this again on 2D blu-ray, I don’t mind the plot problems as much – in fact, Lindelof convincingly explains in the commentary that character motivations are purposely unknowable – and the visuals hold up beautifully (though scenes like the spaceship crash don’t have the power they held in theaters). The writer commentary implies that it’s all overlit because of demands from the 3D process, but a sci-fi horror flick with great lighting and strong color is a nice change of pace.

The deleted scenes actually weren’t so interesting, especially after playing half the writers’ commentary, but the blu extra called The Weyland Files was nice – strange character bits, training and prep for the mission, research, unexplained anthropological stuff, an infomercial for android David, and a Ted Talk by Guy Pearce without his age makeup.

Keira Knightley (Atonement) is amazing as a perverse mental patient turned psychoanalyst. The movie is mainly focused on her (sometimes quite inappropriate) relationship with Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender of Hunger and Inglorious Basterds), but also about Jung’s relationship with Sigmund Freud (cigar-chomping Viggo Mortensen).

Doesn’t sound like Cronenberg’s usual fare, but his movies have always concerned themselves with sex and the workings of the mind, and Keira proves herself a great Cronenbergian heroine, having fits and jaw-locking facial tics when trying to discuss her past, the mind perverting the body.

Vincent Cassel returns from Eastern Promises in a small role. Sparkling sunlit photography by Cronie regular Peter Suschitzky. Closing titles tell us that Keira’s character Sabina Spielrein returned to her native Germany and was murdered by nazis. Jung has previously been played by Max von Sydow and Freud by Liev Schreiber, Bud Cort, Alec Guinness and… Max von Sydow.