Capsule Reviews: “All the Money in the World”, “The Devil’s Well”, “Ferdinand”, “The Foreigner” and “Slumber”

By Andrew Buckner

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

All the Money in the World is one of the best films of 2017. It is also another masterful exhibition of craft from the always interesting director Ridley Scott. The 132-minute thriller, which chronicles the true- life story of the abduction of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, is riveting from start to finish. It is so engrossing that I barely stirred during my viewing of the picture. Further benefitting the affair is a performance from Christopher Plummer that is one of the finest to hit movie screens all year. Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, who portray Gail Harris and Fletcher Chase respectively, issue deft, layered and gripping enactments. Additionally, Scott’s engrossing storytelling, confident pacing and distinguished behind the lens style makes this compelling and highly-cinematic work evermore accomplished. This is a must-see!

(R). Contains violence, language and adult themes.

In theaters now.

THE DEVIL’S WELL

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

The Devil’s Well (2017) is an always interesting, if routinely structured, faux documentary style horror picture. It is one that gleans its chilling nature in the manner of many of the most enduring installments in the previously stated sub-genre: through the power of the imagination. Whether describing fearful incidents in the past or present, the Kurtis Spieler penned and guided opus often wisely tells instead of directly showcasing its stabs at trepidation. This is excluding the engaging concluding 15 minutes of this 88-minute endeavor. Such a time-honored approach works beautifully. Spieler’s affair is no exception. In telling the simultaneously chilling and entertaining tale of Karla Marks (Anne-Marie Mueschke) and her disappearance into the notorious title place, Spieler crafts both relatable and believable characterizations, same said dialogue, situations and scares into a deft dose of low-budget chills. Recommended!

(Unrated).

On DVD 1/23/18 from Wild Eye Releasing.

FERDINAND

Rating: **** out of *****.

Though formulaic in structure and prone to a few moments that may be thematically too dark for some young children (especially in the finale), the beautifully animated Ferdinand (2017) sports a balance of genuinely funny humor and effective sentiment that is as admirable as it is infectious. Alongside John Cena and Kate McKinnon’s lively lead voice work, the always welcome message of embracing love in a world of violence that courses throughout the film is as timely as it is timeless. In turn, the slightly overlong 108-minute feature, based on Munro Leaf’s classic book about the adventures of a kind-hearted bull who is mistaken for a menace, proves to be both a wonderful surprise and robust family-friendly entertainment.

(PG). Contains some crude moments and situations.

In theaters now.

THE FOREIGNER

Rating: *1/2 out of *****.

The Foreigner (2017) is a murky, dull, by-the-numbers mess of a movie. It fails as both a conspiracy thriller and as an action film. Worst of all, leading man Jackie Chan’s often jaw-dropping capacity for cinematic combat is wasted here. This is due to director Martin Campbell’s insistence on keeping such moments as brief and standard service as possible. This is a problem found throughout the relatively empty 112-minute runtime of the film. Moreover, the finale to this terrorist revenge tale is especially flat and unsatisfying. In turn, Campbell has crafted an all-around desperate, distant and forgettable venture. Skip it.

(R). Contains violence and adult themes.

Now available on digital.

SLUMBER

Rating: **** out of *****.

Slumber (2017) is a lean, well-mounted and genuinely effective sleep paralysis based horror outing. The story, which concerns a sleep doctor’s attempts to defend a family from a demon that torments them while they dream, is first-rate. The same can be said of Maggie Q’s central depiction of Alice Arnolds. Co-writer (with Richard Hobley) and director Jonathan Hopkins provides excellent work with his aforesaid contributions. The last 15 of this 84-minute production, though a shade predictable, are a perfect payoff to the immersive buildup beforehand.

(Unrated). Contains violence and terrifying situations.

Now available on digital and in select theaters.

“Alien: Covenant” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Visionary director Ridley Scott continues to carry the Alien franchise along a bold and refreshingly unique route, as he last did in the criminally underrated Prometheus (2012), with the eighth entry overall in the former-stated cinematic succession, Alien: Covenant (2017). This is while respecting the foundation, the well-placed moments of terror and masterful buildup (as well as the working-class characterizations and claustrophobic cinematography), that were present in Scott’s original film in the series, Alien (1979). The satisfying and rich story, which revolves around a ship of colonists who land on a planet they believe to be habitable only to find themselves encountering a chain of deadly threats, is where the above-mentioned qualities are most evident. Such results in the rare modern science-fiction/ horror release that is as rich, challenging and cerebral as it is atmospheric and entertaining. Likewise, the finale, though a shade predictable, is still the perfect note in which to end the film.

As always with a genre feature from Scott, the sets are meticulously detailed, striking, complex and inspiring. In turn, they are almost as lively as the stars themselves. The performances, true to the Alien tradition, are gritty and credible. Katherine Waterston is especially good as Daniels: a more visibly vulnerable riff on Sigourney Weaver’s Alien heroine, Ellen Ripley. Yet, Michael Fassbender steals the show in his dual role as the identical androids David and Walter. These portrayals remain layered despite the inability of the otherwise magnificent screenplay, from John Logan and Dante Harper, to flesh-out our protagonists in any new way. This is a problem initially glimpsed in the commencing minutes of the picture. It courses throughout the duration.

Correspondingly, the pace is uneven. Still, its construction is oddly enchanting and exhilarating. Relatedly, some of the effects, the contribution from a crew of dozens of individuals, are a bit underwhelming. But, there is also plenty of excellent work provided in this arena to be seen. Furthermore, Alien: Covenant isn’t quite as philosophical, visually spectacular or ambitious as Prometheus. It also isn’t as groundbreaking or immediately terrifying as Alien. Still, Alien: Covenant remains a terrific addition to the Alien canon. The pure craft Scott showcases throughout the entirety of its one-hundred-and-twenty-two-minute runtime makes up for these comparatively minor flaws. This is especially true of Alien: Covenant‘s perpetually somber, elegiac and dread-laced tone.

Operating as both a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, Alien: Covenant is sure to frustrate those who want only Xenomorph action. Though the sparse bits consisting of such a detail are vicious, jarring and well-done. Regardless, it will assuredly enthrall audiences who like their movie-going experiences more singular. The quietly eloquent opening sequence alerts spectators of this factor immediately.

In the end, Alien: Covenant is a brilliant signpost of the life still left in this near forty-year-old saga. It is just as much a symbol of Scott’s endlessly evolving mastery of the material. Fans intrigued by the Alien mythology will adore Scott’s most recent outing. I know I did! As a matter of fact, I look forward to absorbing its myriad wonders once more on the biggest screen possible.

(R). Contains graphic violence, language and some sexual content.

Alien: Covenant was released in U.S. theaters on May 19th, 2017.