Tag Archives: Mike Reyes ’17

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Alien: Covenant” – A Frightening Summer Blockbuster, With An A-List Pedigree

by Mike Reyes

Ridley Scott continues to excite with his Alien franchise, returning to the series’ terrifying, blood soaked roots.

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While no one can hear you scream in space, they probably can hear the outcry of upset fans who feel they’ve been done wrong. It’s no secret that Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel Prometheus has its fair amount of detractors, but I myself am among its champions. I felt it was an interesting origin point for an earlier era in the story that would eventually follow Ellen Ripley’s lineage in grand style, depending on what the next couple of films in the prequels did. After seeing Alien: Covenant, I can safely say that the direction Scott is heading in is an exciting one, filled with much more danger and darkness than Prometheus could have ever promised.

In the vast distance of space, the crew of the “Covenant” are ready to start a new home on a planet that’s just ripe for the living. But after discovering a random signal, they are drawn to a planet that is much closer, and can inhabit human life just as easily. One decision will send a crew of colonists straight into the mysteries of this planet, and all of the terror that their shadows conceal. A very familiar terror, with a very interesting origin story.

In early reactions to Alien: Covenant, I remember reading someone coming out of the premiere saying that they knew this was going to be the new film for Alien fans to argue over. That’s definitely the case, as the latest film in this ever evolving saga has taken an interesting turn, in regards to the origins of the species. While ruining those turns is pretty much high treason at this point, it’s a good bet that I can say the mythos of the Alien saga is moving forward in some pretty interesting ways. The ideas that Covenant has when it comes to the creation of the Xenomorph race are not only intriguing, but also thematically ballsy, as their connections to Prometheus make even that film a little more interesting. And all the while, this film unfurls with genuine pacing and craftsmanship that only Ridley Scott could bring to such a film.

Prometheus Crossing Mission

Though it should be noted that Michael Fassbender steals this goddamned movie from everyone else. We get two scoops of synthetic this round, as Alien: Covenant has Fassbender reprising his role of David from Prometheus, as well as introducing us to Walter, a newer, more tame synthetic designed down the line. In both performances, the man shines, playing one character who feels like a soldier and the other like a mad scientist. Watching the two Fassbenders collide on screen is truly a treat, and a testament to the fact that the man is one of our greatest acting treasures in modern cinema.

That’s not to say that the ensemble containing Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bashir, and Carmen Ejogo is weak. In fact, each member of the cast sells their portion of the story with great gusto, with a particularly interesting turn from McBride. In fact, this is probably the most grounded I’ve seen him since his supporting role in Up In The Air, and when you see him upset or scared, you really feel it thanks to his usually egotistical bravado. And Waterson, whom we last saw in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, is definitely ready to be more of a Ripley-esque presence, as she gets to show in certain key moments in this film. While she’s not a full Ripley just yet, I do hope she gets the chance to work in that space, as she’s simply too good not to allow to do so.

Alien Covenant Review

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Alien: Covenant will depend on several things. Chiefly among them will be how much you like Prometheus, and just generally how you like your sci-fi. But one thing applies to all who are interested in uncovering this new film’s mysteries: you really do have to see it for yourself. It is as thrilling as it is visceral, and it might possibly be the bloodiest film of the summer, at least for this moment in time. For someone who’s loved the series since they were a kid, warts and all, I absolutely loved this film, and cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

My Rating: 5/5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Life” – A Lean, But Extremely Mean Thrill Ride

by Mike Reyes

While Life never truly digs into its characters or its environment, it’s really efficient at horrific visuals, stunning creature design, and delivering what’s essentially a living nightmare on crack.

Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) with David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.

If there’s any subject harder to talk about than life, I don’t know what it is. Though talking about the movie Life, not the abstract concept of existence, is a little easier to discuss. While Sony still has me gun shy to approach anything that resembles sci-fi from their production house, thanks to the horrific film I call Passengers, the pedigree of this project was enough to get me to sit down and watch it. While this is far from the movie I was really pulling for it to be, this film managed to be something rather entertaining, and in the darkest, most horrifying ways.

During an unprecedented mission aboard the International Space Station, a diverse crew of specialists discover the first signs of life on Mars. Of course, such discoveries come at a cost, and such a payment can only be made in blood. What the crew of the Pilgrim mission has awakened is fierce, deadly, and extremely intelligent. If they’re lucky, they might just stop it from getting to Earth.

I never had huge hopes for Life, the movie not the abstract concept of being of course. As much as I felt the film cast its leads effectively, and put together an ok at best trailer, I was prepared for a total garbage fire of a film. So imagine my surprise when Life managed to actually be a decent film. This isn’t to say that it’s a slam dunk, as there was a lot of problematic elements that hamper Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s story, as well as some questionable editing in the film’s third act. While the film’s not afraid to get downbeat and gory, it almost feels as if those are two of total set of three tricks the film has to play.

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.

But considering how the buzz was automatically knocking this film as nothing more than an Alien rip off, I’d say that dismissal is quite unfair. While this film certainly does crib its fair share from Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi series, it does manage to also rip off Gravity to a good extent, particularly with Jake Gyllenhaal’s record breaking astronaut who really doesn’t want to go back to Earth. For as good as the central cast’s performances are in Life, they still can’t surmount the amount of stupid decisions these supposedly professional characters make. Apparently, they have “Fuck it!” embroidered on their crew patches, as that’s a frequent exclamation uttered by crew members about to do something stupid and reckless.

Yet for all of the story notes Life borrows, it infuses its extremely thin plot with an energy and pacing that most films forego in order to bog themselves down with useless exposition. While I could have used a little more time with the crew, and some more information about the shadowy operating committee that they worked for, I can’t say that Life wasn’t a fun film to get scare shitless with.

Stupidity aside, the creature known as “Calvin” is at times beautiful and absolutely horrific during its evolution. Its intelligence is matched only by its speed, which is something I still wish I could say about this movie, as it only really enforces the latter element. Yet as inept as the characters were, I never once rooted for this creature. It’s that threatening. Still, while people do extremely stupid things in Life, they do them fast and with conviction, which makes the ride smooth, despite its underdeveloped plot and characters.

Ryan Reynolds

While I really wanted more out of Life, it went into such corners of terror that I stared at the screen in horrified entertainment. There’s plenty of bone chilling stuff that packs the walls of this almost two hour panic attack, which goes so entertainingly dark with some aspects that it makes the safe playing story of the film even more of a disappointment. Sometimes, a movie just exists to be a distraction. As painful as it is to admit, sometimes a fluffy, easy to digest thrill ride is what the doctor orders.

Life definitely fits that bill to a tee, as it’s definitely a fun matinee that can keep you entertained for a short while, and doesn’t ask much of you. Think of it as an exercise to keep you warmed up for the summer season ahead, and enjoy this one with some friends, and maybe a pint or two.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Cocktails and Movies Review: “Beauty and The Beast” – There’s Nothing There That Wasn’t There Before

by Mike Reyes

Disney’s latest live-action remake does little to improve on the original, but still hits the same high notes… and that’s the problem.

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2010’s Alice in Wonderland sparked a new era in film-making at Walt Disney Studios. In addition to creating new characters in their animated division, the legendary movie factory decided that it was time to start revising and re-imagining their finest classics. Soon, MaleficentCinderella, and The Jungle Book all followed, and cleaned up the box office, paving the way for Beauty and The Beast to continue that tradition. Director Bill Condon’s film will definitely clean up, but for all of the wrong reasons.

Belle (Emma Watson) is tired of her mundane existence, and wants something more out of life. And something more she gets, when she imprisons herself in order to safe her father (Kevin Kline) from a beastly prince (Dan Stevens.) But not everything is what it seems, and soon the girl and the prince are in love, despite the outside world becoming more hostile to the prince’s shadowy legacy – all thanks to a disgruntled would-be suitor (Luke Evans.)

You know the story of Beauty and The Beast, and that’s exactly what you’re getting with this movie. Sure, there’s some new songs and a little bit of backstory thrown in to pad out the live-action version of the 1991 Disney classic, but it’s all too little to even justify being included. A couple of new songs and characters, some details on the fate of Belle’s mother, and outright making Lefou lust after Gaston are basically your new elements of storytelling in 2017’s Beauty and The Beast.

Beauty and The Beast Human Again

There’s no reinvention in this version of the classic fairy tale, and that’s what ultimately what hurts Beauty and The Beast the most. While it surely nails the best moments of the film, with “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” still standing out, there’s no sense of curiosity when it comes to re-imagining the story. With all of the live-action remakes that came before it, even the odious Alice In Wonderland that Tim Burton crapped out almost a decade ago, there was enough of a new approach to warrant the existence of a new film.

Of course, Beauty and The Beast isn’t a total waste, as seeing some of your favorite moments come to full CGI life are quite exciting. And the supporting cast totally steals this film from its leads, in particular the Lefou / Gaston double act portrayed by Josh Gad and Luke Evans. Not to mention, the entire cast of castle staffers we’ve come to know and love all shine with actors like Sir Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor and Emma Thompson at the forefront. Though there’s plenty of room in your heart for newcomers like Stanley Tucci and Audra MacDonald, whose Cadenza and Garderobe are so endearing that they deserve more screen time by and large.

So why, with all of these positives is Beauty and The Beast still a wasted effort? Well, it’s because the other animate originals that were remade existed more children’s tales created to entertain, rather than a three dimensional story. Cinderella and The Jungle Book both proved just how amazing remaking these classic tales could be, so the fact that Beauty and The Beast picks up on a story that was already perfect and just slaps some new material into the mix is kind of insulting. Basically, it’s the cinematic equivalent of picking the easy book for your book report, rather than challenging yourself to pull off a more difficult feat.

Beauty Gaston

If they Disney live-action remakes were a shared universe, much like Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, then Beauty and The Beast is the Ant-Man of the lot: just entertaining enough to exist, but not enough to dazzle or challenge. Maybe if Guillermo del Toro brought this project to life as was initially intended, we’d have something interesting to talk about here. But if you’re a die hard fan with a craving for nostalgia, then you’re surely the perfect guest for this film.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Kong: Skull Island” – Massive Fun, With Minor Flaws

by Mike Reyes

Kong Lives Again In This Fast Paced Action-Adventure, That Skimps A Bit On Heart, But Goes All In With Spectacle.

Kong Skull Island 3D

A funny story to preface this review to what looked like it was going to be another hollow exercise in franchise building and cheap thrills: Universal was originally supposed to produce Kong: Skull Island. But, presumably after some of the setbacks that their producing partner Legendary Entertainment had suffered with high profile bombs such as The Seventh Son and Blackhat, they passed the project over to Warner Bros. without a second thought. It’s funny, because Kong: Skull Island is actually a hell of a fun thrill ride that not only should have Universal kicking itself, but should give Warner Bros cause to celebrate, as their burgeoning “Monsterverse” is still going strong as ever.

In the shadow of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have a special favor to ask of Uncle Sam. That favor is to allow for these two men to make an expedition to an uncharted island that hides a lot more than what can be seen on the surface. With a military escort, led by a Lieutenant Colonel looking for a fight (Samuel L. Jackson,) and accompanied by various scientists, a war photographer (Brie Larson,) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston,) the secrets of Skull Island will slowly reveal themselves. And Kong himself is acting as the god of the island, and possibly the fates of the humans who’ve come so far to seek him.

The first thing you should know about Kong: Skull Island is that it’s not another straight up remake of King Kong. So if you’re looking forward to the Empire State Building or beauty killing the beast, Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic is the most modern you’ll be getting with all of that. Instead, writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein (who also helped pen Godzilla ’14,) and Derek Connolly (who served as a writer on Jurassic World,) have decided to go with a Vietnam War movie themed mold to shape their monster movie. It shows in the soundtrack, the cinematography, and even in the film’s predominantly orange, brown, and green color palette, and it’s a refreshing change.

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With this fresh lens, Kong: Skull Island is dripping with 70’s throwback mojo that charms as much as it does anchor the story of Kong in a more modern context. Gone is the old school adventurer vibe, and in its place is a “man on a mission / war is hell” film that crosses the character of Kong with Apocalypse Now. Nowhere is this more present than in Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard, a character who swears an oath to stomp out Kong, after a particularly eventful engagement during our first moments on the island.

However, there’s still some of the awe and wonder of discovering a new ecosystem, as there are plenty of new beasts and environmental factors that our characters discover throughout the running time of the film. In fact, this is more where Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s characters of James and Mason come into play, as they’re on the side that wants to preserve Skull Island, and Kong himself. Through their chemistry together, as well as with late game contributor John C. Reilly, they explore the conservationist side of Kong: Skull Island, setting up the major conflict of the film’s narrative.

Though don’t get too attached to the characters in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first blockbuster picture. Not only do you know they’re going to be monster fodder, but they just aren’t all that well fleshed out, seeing as this expedition actually has a lot of participants among its ranks. If there’s any fault to Kong: Skull Island, the film could have stood to engaged in some more character and story development, and dropping some of the extra characters could have helped immensely. That’s not to say the break neck pace of the film isn’t an advantage, as the film’s almost two hour screen time breezes by on a gale of excitement. But a couple more moments learning about the pieces in the game would have been nice, if anything so we had more of a connection to the film at large.

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Kong: Skull Island is unapologetic blockbuster fun, and it’s certainly recommended as a fun night out at the movies. In fact, IMAX 3D is the only real way to go with this film, as it sells the scale of Kong and his compatriots properly, immersing the audience in a true clash of titan level glory. By time the final post credits stinger rolls, and ties in Godzilla ’14 alongside the adventures of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be ready for the next chapter. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s exciting – and in this case, the parts that are missing don’t sink the ship.

My Rating: 4/5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Get Out” – A Horror Debut Of The Highest Caliber

by Mike Reyes

Jordan Peele makes a writing/directing debut so impressive, it’s destined to be a horror staple.

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Socially conscious horror films can be pretty horrific, whether it be because of the actual horror in the content they provide, or just because they’re a really bad movie. Directorial debuts can be equally as painful, as talented folks who’ve “always wanted to direct” can be just as weird to watch. So somewhere, in some Hollywood lab, Get Out must feel like a film that’s grasping at a relevant subject, with comedic talent Jordan Peele trying to make himself relevant as a solo act. That lab couldn’t be further from the truth, as Peele is a true student of the horror genre, and has made a tremendously thrilling film that should stand as one of the pillars of social horror done right.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) have been dating for four months. Surely that’s enough time to wait to introduce your African American boyfriend to your WASP-y family, especially when you haven’t told them his ethnicity? What begins as a strange trip to meet the family (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) turns into something a lot more sinister, and more deeply disturbing than what you could ever imagine.

You can tell that Jordan Peele has had Get Out on his mind for a while now, as the film is nothing short of a breathless horror thrill ride. Not once does the film step out of line, nor does it deflate its tension with undue humor. If anything, the humor helps amp up the thrills, as the threat of further danger is always lurking out of the frame. This is thanks to Peele’s sense of atmosphere and world building, as he takes his time conditioning the audience into the right frame of mind that allows Get Out to really screw with their expectations.

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And at the center of it all is the all at once vulnerable and strong performance by Daniel Kaluuya, whose Chris is our guide into this world of macabre race relations. His relative innocence pitted up against Allison Williams’ naivete and the subtle menace of both Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener is what makes this film such a powerful horror film, as he’s put through quite a ringer of societal, mental and physical pain. All of this without stooping to stereotypical racial tropes, and without using the granddaddy of all racial slurs.

Though a moment should be taken to praise the entire supporting cast of Get Out, as there’s no role that’s out of place. If all you know of Allison Williams is her role on Girls, then you’ll probably be a bit surprised with her role as Chris’s girlfriend, as she’s definitely given more of a range than the show has. Not to mention former X-Men star, and character actor in the making, Caleb Landry Jones, as well as beloved character actor Stephen Root, both play some rather memorable members of Rose’s family. But perhaps the one actor that almost steals the film completely from under everyone else’s feet is comedian LilRel Howery, whose TSA agent / best friend to Chris is drop dead funny. His appearances help relieve the pressure of the threats that came before, while helping prime us for the next round.

Get Out is probably one of, if not the most, artistic horror films on the market. It helps that protagonist Chris is a photographer, which more than likely informed Jordan Peele’s writing and directing process in telling his story. But even in the prologue that takes place before Chris’s story, or even in the moments he’s not involved in, there’s a slick menace to Peele’s visuals and sound design. With the score and sound effects used as tools to enhance the dreadful atmosphere, rather than shock the audience into a cheap scare, it’s as if we’re being conditioned right alongside Chris. We’re just as helpless and scared as he is, and that’s something horror films forget to do by and large.

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Get Out isn’t a blunt instrument trying to bludgeon you with its message, rather it’s a subtle knife that cuts you in all the right places. With Jordan Peele’s strong and confident voice as a writer, director, and horror auteur, his ascendance should not only be seen as a triumph of diversity, but also as a victory for the horror genre. I, for one, am looking forward to whatever Peele does next, as he’s proven that he’s ready to take the reins again, perhaps on a bigger scale than before.

My Rating: 5 / 5