Longevity is an implied theme this week. The lead film is by Ridley Scott. He’s almost 80 and still directs huge movies. Elsewhere we welcome back three women actors who have been more prominent on TV recently. Look for Debra Winger, Alicia Silverstone and Susan Sarandon in the reviews below.
At the same time notice that three of the week’s new films are about youth.
Alien Covenant: 3 stars
Certain Women: 4
The Lovers: 3 ½
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul: 3
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea: 3
Vancouver No Fixed Address: 3 ½
Everything, Everything: 2 ½
ALIEN COVENANT: First, here’s a guide to help you. This is the 8th Alien movie. Ridley Scott started the series with his creepy and gooey 1979 masterpiece. Five years ago he made a prequel, Prometheus, and now gives us a sequel to that prequel. Unfortunately it’s a messy effort. It’s riddled with plot inconsistencies and cluttered up with grand questions about the origins and the meaning of life. There’s talk of man playing God and there’s quoting of Wagner and Byron but these philosophical strains are underdeveloped and seem destined for the next sequel.
The real draw we’re waiting for is the coming battle with the slimy alien xenomorph creature. As it always does, it gets into the spaceship and kills off crew members one by one. It takes human error and a series of convoluted events to set that up. The ship is taking a couple of thousand sleeping colonists to a new planet, loses its captain in an accident and is diverted by his replacement (Billy Crudup) to another planet when a signal (a John Denver song) is received. They find the wrecked Prometheus, its still-functioning android (a brotherly match for their own, both played by Michael Fassbender) and the creature, not yet matured but ready to come on board. Katherine Waterston plays a Ripley stand-in and Danny McBride a novice action guy but it’s the two Fassbenders who own the rest of the film. All the big questions become tangled up in their connection, a physical fight they come to and a vague twist enduing. The acting is impeccable, the visuals are excellent and the film is ambitious but hardly new and surprisingly talky. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
CERTAIN WOMEN: Kelly Reichardt’s latest film is a genuine marvel. She tells the story of very ordinary women without a lot of drama in their lives and makes them absolutely compelling. Their everyday events become intensely interesting. That’s quite a trick and quite rare in the movies. These three tales, presented separately and only through juxtaposition interlinked, come from Maile Meloy, one of the hottest short story writers in the US these days. They’re decidedly cool, set in a perpetually snow-swept Montana.
The most poignant one stars Kristen Stewart and features a striking performance by an actor who is far less known but steals the show. Lily Gladstone has won awards or been nominated for it at many festivals. She plays a lonely ranch woman who wanders into a class taught by Stewart and becomes enchanted. The longing for friendship and connection she conveys is extremely moving. Earlier Laura Dern portrays a lawyer who has to let a client with a workers’ compensation issue learn some bad news and then help the police diffuse a rage situation. In the middle story, Michelle Williams is a woman with plans to build a country house. She and her husband visit an old man to buy a pile of rocks. That’s it and yet you’re drawn in completely by the interaction of these characters and the detailed way they’re delineated. That’s true of all three stories. Nothing contrived; just well-observed real people’s lives and a very good film. (The Cinemathque) 4 out of 5
THE LOVERS: Debra Winger and Tracy Letts are superb as a couple who seem to have an open marriage. It’s not clear whether they each know that their partner is having an affair but it would be hard to miss. The twist in this cleverly written light drama is that as the story progresses, they’re a also cheating on those outside lovers, with each other.
Most of their married life is pretty dull. Their conversation is cursory. They’re not really together even when they are. It’s a gloomy view of marriage for couples as old as they are, and probably accurate oftentimes. She indulges in nooners with a younger man (an Irishman played by Aiden Gillen) and he works late at the office a lot, or so he says. He spends time with a dance instructor (Melora Walters) who neurotically presses him to follow up on his promise to leave his wife. He doesn’t of course and what follows is a sex comedy for the mature set. There aren’t a lot of jokes but there’s a great deal of great dialogue about missed dreams, aging, striving for more. Best of all: they come off like real people in this blend of gentle absurdity, humanity and easy-going charm. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5