Tag Archives: B

THE LOVERS

Producer: Chris Stinson and Ben LeClair
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Writer: Azazel Jacobs
Stars: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross and Jessica Sula
Studio: A24 Films

B

A serio-comic take on a disintegrating marriage that just might not fall apart, Azazel Jacobs’ “The Lovers” is a relationship tale with jagged edges. Though a bit too cleverly contrived in the end, its voice is sufficiently distinctive to set it apart from other stories of modern marital discord.

The film is also blessed with two exceptional leads, Debra Winger and Tracy Letts. They play Mary and Michael, a couple whose life together has become pretty much limited to sleeping in the same bed and occasionally eating dinner together or sharing a bottle of wine. Both are having affairs—hers is with a writer named Robert (Aidan Gillen) and his with a dancer named Lucy (Melora Walters), but both decline to break things off completely with their mates until after an upcoming visit by their estranged college-age son Joel (Tyler Ross), who’s bringing along his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). Neither Robert nor Lucy is at all happy about the delay in a commitment to them.

Complicating things is the fact that Michael and Mary, who have been sleepwalking through the exterior of their marriage for years, wake up one morning with a renewed passion for one another. They resume their love life, but furtively, in effect being unfaithful to their respective lovers. And when Joel—who’s been disgusted by the hypocrisy of their sham marriage—comes home to find them apparently besotted with each other again, it infuriates him all the more. The question, of course, is how they’ll handle their rediscovered common lust.

That’s all the story there is; the attraction of “The Lovers” lies not in the plot, which is awfully slender, but the details—the unexpected turns in Jacobs’ writing but especially the notes that Winger and Letts bring to their characters. Neither overdoes things—Winger, in fact, is more subdued than she has often been, and Letts exudes some of the comic befuddlement of the late character actor Edward Andrews, whom he rather resembles—but they invest Mary and Michael with the puzzled air that would naturally come upon partners who are surprised by the sudden reawakening of their desire for one another even as they plan to separate.

They bring a similar quality of quiet panic to their scenes with their respective lovers. Gillen’s Robert is a smooth operator whose attempts at manipulation Mary seems almost unable to resist, while Walters makes Lucy a frantic obsessive, certain that Michael will ultimately drop her for his wife. The difference between the two is exhibited in one of the script’s clumsiest twists—the idea that both would confront their rivals at roughly the same moment. While that turn can’t escape a feeling of hopeless contrivance on Jacobs’ part, the dissimilar approaches they take—Robert’s silkily abrupt, Lucy’s beyond histrionic—are entirely characteristic.

Lucy’s intrusion also plays a major part in the final reaction of Joel to his parents’ peculiar situation. As with Mary and Michael’s complicated emotions, it’s not easy to parse out exactly what’s driving the young man as he takes a stand, but that’s okay, because everything doesn’t have to resolve smoothly. That’s certainly true of Jacobs’ final twist, which some may dismiss as too clever by half but comes across as cynically fitting, given what has led up to it.

On the technical side the movie is fine, if unexceptional—Tobias Datum’s camerawork is more functional than elegant, but it will serve, as will Darrin Navarro’s editing. A more notable contribution comes from composer Mandy Hoffman, whose lush score bears at some points an uncanny resemblance to Pino Donaggio’s work.

There’ a calculated air to “The Lovers” that makes it seem not just an artful construction, but also a rather affected one. With Winger and Letts at the center, however, you’re likely to enjoy the artificiality rather than find it annoying.

ALIEN: COVENANT

Producer: Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, David Giler and Walter Hill
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: John L:ogan and Dante Harper
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bechir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Benjamin Rigby, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathanial Dean, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich and James Franco
Studio: 20th Century Fox

B

Ridley Scott goes back to basics with “Alien: Covenant,” the latest installment of the franchise he initiated in 1979. One of several intervening sequels he is evidently preparing to his 2012 prequel “Prometheus,” all of them designed to lead back to the original “Alien,” it’s as much a sci-fi horror movie, pure and simple, as the first film was (and the more cerebral “Prometheus” was not). Since we’re much more jaded an audience than we were thirty-eight years ago, it can’t have the same visceral impact, even though it escalates the level of sheer violence. Nonetheless it’s a coolly effective entry in the series, delivering some real jolts along the way.

The script by John Logan and Dante Harper starts with a premise similar to that of 2016’s “Passengers.” The spaceship Covenant is carrying a contingent of freeze-dried humans to a distant planet for colonization. Along the way, however, it encounters a calamitous event that forces Walter (Michael Fassbender), the new, improved model of the robot created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) that the actor played (as David) in “Prometheus,” to awaken the human crew for repairs. Unfortunately, Captain Branson (a cameo by the ubiquitous James Franco) dies in his malfunctioning stasis capsule, leaving his wife Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a terraformist, grieving and first mate Oram (Billy Crudup), a believer whose faith makes him suspect to the secularists on board, in charge of the mission. (Don’t expect any serious consideration of matters theological, though: the religious subtext gets no more profound than it did in “Frankenstein.”)

Among the other crew members are Oram’s wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), a biologist; Tennessee (Danny McBride), the vessel’s chief pilot; his wife Maggie (Amy Seimetz); and security chief Lope (Demian Bichir). There are a few other, less prominent crew members, most of whom have functions not unlike those filled by the infamous “Star Trek” redshirts, who are fated not to last long during missions. In this case, keep a particularly close watch on Ledward (Benjamin Rigby) and Hallett (Nathaniel Dean)—provided you’re not the squeamish type, in which case you might want to put your hands over your eyes.

The Covenant’s course is altered, at Oram’s command, when the ship’s communications intercept a transmission from an unknown planet that appears to be of human origin. The decision, of course, proves to be a bad one. Members of an exploration team will encounter not only alien spores that can infect people with dreadful result, but David, the reconstituted robot from the Prometheus (also played by Fassbender). He offers the crew refuge from the planet’s ghastly storms, but proves to be a distinctly untrustworthy ally whom Walter comes to suspect is harboring mad scientist tendencies. He’s right, of course, and the human contingent is gradually whittled down until a single sympathetic survivor is left to escape. But there’s a concluding twist that will obviously serve as lead-in to the next installment, provided that box office revenues justify one.

As usual even with Scott’s worst pictures (the last two, “The Counselor” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” for example), “Covenant” is elegantly made, visually a mixture of the virtues of “Alien” and “Prometheus,” with a gleaming production design by Chris Seagers that has been lustrously shot by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and exceptional effects work from teams headed by Charley Henley and Neil Corbould. It also stages its shocks cannily, thanks to Scott and editor Pietro Scalia, even if one might sometimes think that less might have been more.

As to the performances, Fassbender clearly enjoys playing with himself, as it were, giving both David and Walter a controlled, slightly prissy exterior while managing to suggest the subtle differences between them. The moments in which the characters interact are especially well done, both by Fassbender and the technicians who make it look seamless. Among the others, Waterston gets the greatest opportunity to emote, and takes advantage of it, though Crudup does a nice job of showing the insecurity of a man thrust into a position of authority others don’t consider him up to. McBride brings a touch of humorous bravado to the enterprise, though no outright laughs, and everyone else does what is demanded of them, including in many instances following in the footsteps of the late John Hurt.

It’s difficult to make an old-fashioned, straightforward scare-fest today, when so many think that horror has to be presented with a tongue-in-cheek attitude simply because the audience has already seen so much. But Scott has tried, and—if the reaction of early viewers is any indication—he’s largely succeeded.