You may recall Prometheus with both awe and astonishment, a film with astounding moments of beauty and horror and brilliance bumping up against stupidity and sloppiness and half-baked ideas. Alien: Covenant (2017), the second film in the Alien prequel series, takes place a decade after the events of Prometheus (2012) and continues writing the xenomorph origin story with a new cast of potential hosts (a colony ship with a population on ice waiting to wake on a new world) put through a plot that borrows elements from both Prometheus and the original films. It’s a smarter film, and if it never quite matches the conceptual and visual genius of Prometheus at its best, neither does it slip into the foolishness of its worst moments.
This is the sixth official film (we’re ignoring the Alien vs. Predator films) in what is becoming a galaxy-spanning franchise, the second film in the prequel story, and the third directed by Ridley Scott, director of the original film. It opens with the skeleton crew awakening early, just as it did in Scott’s original Alien, and sending a search party down to a nearby planet sending out a distress signal, which this time is a verdant world teaming with plant life but, eerily, no animals or insects or birds. What it does have are the insidious spores of Prometheus (also directed by Scott) which colonize the unlikely humans as hosts for this alien life form, and a lone humanoid living in the ruins of a dead civilization: David (Michael Fassbender), the android of Prometheus who walks the wasteland like a rogue prophet and makes contact with the human team.
In Eastbound and Down, Danny McBride is former Major League pitcher Kenny Powers, a washed-up superstar who bought in to the hype and is now despised by who are, simply put, sick of his crap. Blissfully free of self-awareness, Powers doesn’t let the crash and burn of his career put a dent in his raging ego. “That is why I am better than everyone else in the world,” is his mantra, even as he moves in to his brother’s middle-class home and takes a job as a junior high school gym teacher in his home town. Not the best career choice for an arrogant jerk with anger management issues. Created for HBO by McBride with Ben Best and Jody Hill and co-produced by Will Ferrell (who co-stars in two episodes) and Adam McKay (who also directs a couple of episodes), this is a cable series created with the same collaborative spirit and improvisational approach of Will Ferrell’s movies, and it’s funnier and sharper than Ferrell’s last couple of pictures. Note that David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) directs three episodes as well. The limited series numbers only six half-hour episodes, but they make for a pretty tight story that even allows Powers to grow up a little. But not much. Also features deleted scenes (the extended “Stevie’s Dark Secret,” which apparently was too much even for HBO, is so perverse that it’s given its own supplement), commentary and a 12-minute featurette that offers the best description I’ve heard of the show: “It’s like if Dennis Hopper shot The Natural.”
Hal Ashby’s 1982 gambling comedy Lookin’ to Get Out, directed from a script co-written by star Jon Voight, was a critical and commercial flop on its original release. Seen today, in a longer cut than was originally released (Voight was pressured to edit it down by 15 minutes by the studio), it looks better, if not quite great. Voight is Alex, a hopeless gambling addict with unflagging optimism in his own abilities who sets off to Vegas with his schlub of a best friend Jerry (Burt Young) for a “big score” to settle a gambling debt. Alex is flamboyant, effusive, a perpetual motion hustler racing with out-of-control momentum. Jerry is constantly worried and unceasingly loyal, but at root he’s a good-hearted romantic who takes everyone at their word until they prove their word isn’t worth anything. The plot is a completely unconvincing series of coincidences but the dynamism of the characters and their friendships is marvelous. Voight and Young are like kids when they get excited, immature but utterly devoted to one another, and Young delivers the defining line with such unforced conviction that it won me over completely: “I don’t want your money. Alex, he does. I can’t help that, but he’s my friend and you take the good with the bad. Ann-Margret is touching as a woman from Voight’s past whose romantic idealism is tempered by her growing realization that her old lover is completely unsuitable as a father to her daughter. Ashby’s indulgence allows the film get lost in comic chases and brawls (not to mention the crazy plot involving mistaken identity and a washed up gambler played by Bert Remsen) but he always returns to the characters, who are the real story of the film. You can tell what footage has been restored by the speckling on the film (it appears to be from a workprint, but the wear is minor and the footage is otherwise sharp and has strong color) and it’s all character stuff, the very thing that makes the film work. But, lordy, is that eighties synthesizer score painful. Continue reading “DVDs for 6/30/09 – Eastbound, Vegas Bound and back to Bed-Stuy to Do the Right Thing”