Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Push (2009)

PUSH (2009)

Directed by: Paul McGuigan   Runtime: 1 hr 51 min   Rated: PG-13  

Studio: Summit Entertainment   Screenwriter: David Bourla 

Cast: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou

In 2009, “super” anything movies had not yet taken the world by storm, with enthralling special effects, CGI, costumes, and storylines that would play the long game with fans the world over. The original Fantastic Four movie came out a few years before this, also starring Chris Evans. And the MCU would begin the following year with Iron Man. For context. 

Nick Grant (Chris Evans) and Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) are two powered Americans in Hong Kong. Nick is hiding out from Division Agent Carver (Djimon Hounsou) after Agent Carver kills Nick’s father. Cassie shows up to help Nick find Division property and a missing woman (Camilla Belle). Division is a side organization within the U.S. Government that tracks down enhanced people with mental powers. That’s the gist of the plot. 

‘Push’ Official Trailer via Summit Screening Room on YouTube

In terms of believability, it’s a cliché of a story. Powered people are hunted to be weaponized or disposed of if they don’t comply. Yet, it transitions well from one scene to the next for a story with an unassuming premise. It has a pace that works with the B-grade camera style that is at times gritty and shaky. That with the low lighting of the streets and decor of Hong Kong it works. In a way, it helps set the tone because this sense of realism would be lost if it was clean and smooth. Between the camera delivery and the cinematography itself, mixed with the action, one can forgive the cliché. 

Evans and Fanning have the chemistry of siblings, but they aren’t. They work off one another so well it enhances their respective performances. Hounsou always has this gravitas about him in his roles. In Push, he is clearly the main threat without working at it or doing too much to assert his character’s ruthlessness. The most dangerous people tend to be the quieter ones who don’t yell but flex their power in other ways; that’s Agent Carver. Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle) is a vehicle for the plot. Still, Belle’s delivery of her character is as believable and entertaining as a wet sock. 

The issue that I find most at fault with this story is tying up loose ends. Cassie is basically an unaccompanied minor running around Hong Kong. The film addresses her mother but never explains how a 13-year-old American gets there. Push could have been a little longer and fleshed out a more satisfying ending, but it didn’t. It barely made more in the box office than it cost to produce- for a studio that qualifies as a flop. Flops don’t get sequels. Push ended with a setup to answer questions in a sequel that never came. Maybe if the story had been more original, it would have satisfied audiences more. Despite the lackluster box office earnings, the film still garnered mixed reviews. 

Summit Entertainment still from ‘Push’ via IMDB

Push isn’t the best movie of all time, but it’s a good watch for action and decent acting with a cast that makes up for an otherwise bland concept. Don’t go in expecting to be wowed. This movie is a fair way to kill two-hours without feeling like you’ve lost brain cells by doing so. Push isn’t so bad you couldn’t put it on your watchlist. 

-a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve Runtime: 1 hr 56 min Rated: PG-13 Studio: Paramount Screenwriter: Eric Heisserer Based on: Story of Your Life, 1998 short story by Ted Chiang Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremey Renner, Forest Whitaker 

Arrival is a cerebral experience that delivers a compelling sci-fi story with novel ideas through minimal CGI, well-edited sound, and strong performances by the cast. 

Twelve alien crafts suddenly arrive on Earth in places all over the globe. Top translation linguist Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is…requisitioned by the U.S. Army to help communicate with these beings and find out why they came. Dr. Banks is aided by Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist.  

Two key points I found refreshingly novel compared to other alien films involving the military were: they put in a woman in charge, and they listened. In many professions, women are not at the top or even respected for the work they do. Chiang’s choice for a female lead, believably, drives the story forward. The studio’s version could have changed that but did not. Second, the American military could have listened and taken a ‘we’ll take that under consideration’ mentality to Dr. Banks’s assessment. Instead, more or less, she was permitted to work without interference. 

The military wants answers as quick as possible before another country starts shooting. Knowing that and trying to communicate correctly with a species you don’t understand… is a lot of pressure. In numerous films, the military person in charge is a hard ass, which would not fit this movie’s tone. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) is the man in charge of operations. Forest Whitaker naturally projects a strong authority of presence without trying. His calm assertiveness and respectful demeanor when things are explained to him is a great example of why patience in this film is so important. It’s one of the main themes. 

Amy Adams delivers a grounded performance that is nothing short of graceful. She (Dr. Banks) is learning an alien language, teaching English-under the military’s eye, while processing some intensely personal events. She never misses a beat.

Why is it that alien movies with potential global destruction are what it takes to make the world work together and share information? Teams like Dr. Banks and Dr. Donnelly’s are also in contact with their local alien ships. How and why all these teams choose to communicate the way they do should remind us that one way isn’t the only way. 

Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner in Paramount Pictures ‘Arrival’ via

The subtle nods to the other teams and the world’s reaction to finding out aliens are real are very believable. It helps with scene transitions and story progression. Some of the scenes may be confusing as more about the aliens are discovered: how they travel, how they view time, their belief of the notion of fate, and language itself. I did say this movie is a cerebral experience. 

The authentic responses to the alien’s arrival are as intense emotionally as it is mentally. The alarms and subsequent evacuation of students from campus are relatable to me, as I’m sure it is for many. (It’s in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling anything). Who doesn’t remember how they felt when they learned the news of something huge? A war starting, a natural disaster wiping out places, the assassination of someone? For me, it was being in a college lecture hall on 9-11. It’s not the arrival of aliens, but there is a relatable sense of anxiety and dread. Scenes like this, created to resonate with the viewer, enable the filmmakers to craft a film with much less CGI than most sci-fi pictures.

Another cerebral form is physics. I’ve said in another review that I don’t do physics, it’s still true. However, when watching this film, pay attention to the comments about the ship’s design, how they move, and the energy they put out. For such a large object, my thought was, that’s one green ship! I don’t know if that was intentional. Still, I think it says a lot about this alien species and their intellect without explaining anything more. I reviewed the 2012 film Prometheus, and a ship in that film is similar to those in this one. Both are a nice departure from how other spacecraft are depicted. 

Amy Adams is Louise Banks in Paramount Pictures, ‘Arrival’ via

Ted Chiang created this alien language, and it was further fleshed out when adapted to the screen. It became a believably functional, artful, and original depiction of a language not based on our own. That takes immense creativity and understanding. When Dr. Banks learns enough of their language to understand their purpose on Earth, well, it’s absurd for real life, but for a movie? Sure. Go with it. 

If you don’t like to think when watching a film and want everything spelled out for you, this film is not for you. If movies like Alien and Independence Day are more your thing, this movie will disappoint you on multiple levels. If, however, you enjoy a great sci-fi story with good acting and original perspective, you should put this film on your watch list. 

—a pen lady


Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Directed by: Ridley Scott     Runtime: 2 hr 3 min     Rated: R    

Studio: 20th Century Fox     Screenwriters: John Logan, Dante Harper

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is the follow-up to his 2012 Prometheus prequel of his Alien franchise. Set ten years later, in 2104, Covenant follows a crew of 15 onboard a Weyland Group colonization vessel bound for a planet still several years away. 

Micheal Fassbender reprises his role as a ship android, this time named Walter. He and “mother” the ship’s computer, watch over the crew and 3,100 colonist and embryos asleep in stasis pods. Things in space movies never go as planned, and Covenant is no different. Walter is forced to wake the crew early to deal with the instigating event. 

The Covenant characters’ dynamic is much different from Prometheus; right after waking up, they all work to fix problems. This cohesion was not in the previous film, nor was any semblance of rank, security protocols, or notion that anyone had ever been in space before. Right away, I appreciate these things because whether a mission is from a company or military group, things happen in space, and there needs to be guidelines and structure. 

It’s obvious that this crew has worked together before, and there is history. It is a colonization journey, so I can let go of the fact that almost the entire crew is paired off already with someone. I think of the Netflix show Lost in Space, and I know that dynamic can be done well. This isn’t as good as that, but it’s not terrible. That history, understanding, is what gets the crew off course from their intended destination. After spending a decade researching and verifying a planet can be colonized, I find it ridiculously unbelievable a crew would abandon that on a whim. They still have a job to do. This isn’t Star Trek. 

Still, the characters are performed well, considering the interaction and story you get with some in a thriller movie like this. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, second in command of the Covenant. Waterston’s character reminds me of Sigourney Weavers Ridley from the original Alien films. She has a strong presence, good leadership, and the right mix of ‘I can handle this and be scared at the same time.’ 

20th Century Studios Offical Trailer for Alien: Covenant via YouTube

The film’s pace is better than the last, and the scenes flow well from one to the next. Scene transition gets really important in the latter part of the film when Fassbender and Waterston’s characters learn more about the planet they are exploring.  

While Ridley Scott answers the question of what brings the Covenant to this planet with sound logic and justification, that’s where it ends. The backstory provided only serves to raise more questions and frustrations stemming from Prometheus’s introduction to the “Engineers.” Don’t worry though Covenant brings out the egg-pods, the face-huggers, xenomorphs, blood, gore, and running like its founders. The film has the suspense and thriller aspect closer to the originals than Prometheus, so fans shouldn’t be too disappointed.

There are many unanswered questions between these first two prequels that I wish Ridley Scott had done more to answer in this film. The cliffhanger those unanswered questions leave- lingers too much after two films. Scott’s master plan was to have three prequel films to connect the Alien’s origins with the original franchise. The third film may never be made. Covenant’s box office sales were disappointing. Then, Disney acquired the Alien franchise in 2019, and 2020 obliterated the film industry. I hope the film gets made and that Ridley Scott finally answers the questions he has raised so far. The fans deserve closure. 

Despite all those issues and unanswered questions, Alien: Covenant is a good if under-appreciated film worthy of being put on your watch list. 

—a pen lady 

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012)

Directed by: Ridley Scott     Runtime: 2 hr 3 min     Studio: 20th Century Fox

Screenwriters: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, Dan O’Bannon     Rated: R

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Benedict Wong

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise he started in 1979 but with a different trajectory in mind. In the previous Alien films, the question of “where did they come from” never comes up. That’s okay, those films were designed for thrilling suspense and to scare you. They were never intended to answer big questions. Or ask them. Prometheus tackles these logical questions head-on to examine the storyline from a new lens while still connecting it to its predecessor. 

Prometheus doesn’t precisely answer any of the questions it raises, to the annoyance of many viewers. Still, life doesn’t always give answers—and neither does Scott. Strangely, I’m okay with it. While the pacing is sometimes slow, the Prometheus crew gets an answer to if man is alone in the universe. 

This quest for understanding originates from archeological findings on Earth in 2089. A “scientist” belief that mankind is being invited to go looking for their maker is all that is required. The Weyland Group privately funds a space expedition for this journey through the stars. In Alien, the Weyland Group is what the Umbrella Corporation is to the Resident Evil franchise. Though it’s not really apparent in this movie.

While the plot’s rationale for taking a journey through space is thin and scientifically absurd, as are the other scientists and professionals, the characters are still likable. There’s a biologist who acts like a kid at a zoo, a geologist who gets lost despite mapping equipment, a medical doctor, security personnel, and the bridge crew. Two archeologists (one who believes more in faith than science), a Weyland employee overlord, and an android with a creepy god complex round out the rest.

Half of the characters are barely developed. The ones that are are a mixed bag. I can’t understand the lack of rules and protocols of a crew on a spaceship. It’s like you stole your parents’ car and drove for the first time with friends, it’s aggravating chaos. Despite that, the performances are well done; not Oscar-worthy but enjoyable all the same. My two favorite characters are the ship’s Captain/pilot, Janek, played by Idris Elba. Hello, it’s Idris Elba. No other reason is required. Seriously, I like his level-headed demeanor. It’s in stark contrast to everyone else. The other is David the android, played by Micheal Fassbender. He depicts an android emulating a human without emotion with precision. 

Another depiction that is well done is the scene/set locations. There is this opening sequence that shows this harsh, beautiful landscape. You don’t know if it’s on Earth or when. The similarity to that setting and the one later in the film highlight how our planet is not unique in the universe. It indicates how small we are, and that’s not a notion we like as a species. 

In movies, there is this notion that space travel, ships, and equipment have to be either old and industrial or clean and futuristic with lots of technology. The original Alien films look very dirty and industrial, which is a sign of the times when they were made. Special effects were not what they are today. However, the vessel Prometheus itself and the land equipment are a great mix of the two. Additionally, the other technology used throughout the film isn’t so reaching as to be unbelievable. 

This movie isn’t for those who don’t want to think about it too hard. It will also not be loved by serious fans of the Alien franchise if all that is expected is low-lighting, suspense, and body cavity bursting. Prometheus is designed to show you how the body cavity bursting aliens come to be. It’s about their origins. Sometimes a good story is slow to set up, which this film is for many. However, it’s not the only movie Ridley Scott has planned as an Alien prequel. With this in mind, you should add Prometheus to your watch list.

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)   Runtime: 2 hr 22 min Rating: PG-13

Directed: Zack Snyder    Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Lawrence Fishburne Studio: Warner Bros. & Legendary Pictures

Henry Cavill takes on the role of the beloved and iconic comic superhero, Superman. In Zack Snyders adaptation Clark Kent seeks to learn where he came from and, ultimately, acceptance on Earth under the moniker of “Superman.” 

No story of Superman’s origin comes without Martha and Johnathan Kent. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect fits as the embodiments of the salt of the earth couple responsible for the humanity at Clark’s core. 

This re-telling of Clark/Kal-El’s origin story is presented in smaller nuggets of memories that feel organic as they weave in and out of the storyline. The viewer can see Clark’s progression and struggles. Clark learns as a teenager that he’s an alien- because, ya know, high school isn’t hard enough, but that only helps him understand why he’s ‘not normal.’ Logically, he still wonders where he comes from. The film starts with his adult self out in the world seeking answers to that exact question. That need to learn where he came from and why go hand in hand with the movies other driving questions, ‘is the world ready for me? Am I ready?’ 

Warner Bros. Pictures Offical Trailer #3 of Man of Steel via YouTube

Most humans don’t measure their lives on how their character is judged by the world. So they can’t imagine if their very existence was the embodiment of someone else’s hope and beliefs. That this existence, not life, will forever be judged on their choices, their character. The adversary to Clark/Kal-El’s internal struggles judges his choices too, and from that, we see the external conflict through fight scenes. 

A few of the things I really appreciate in this film are the rig and harness work for the choreography on the flight and fight sequences. They’re impressive if you think of how fast Kryptonians move on Earth. With all the shooting and explosions, you have to appreciate all that physicality and timing required to pull it off. What you thought I was gonna give specifics? That would have meant spoilers! 

Henry Cavill in ‘Man of Steel’ Credit: Warner Bros. via

Compared to the Earth’s military forces, the Kryptonians’ technology and equipment are in stark contrast, yet not unbelievably. It’s not cheesy or over the top-it’s explained in ways that any viewer can follow along with. One scene/aspect of the story gave me a very ‘Matrix-like’ vibe. 

Henry Cavill as Superman, not just because he physically looks like a great Superman/Clark Kent but because of his presence. The way he delivers the character. His ability to take the script and what the character needs to do physically comes off so naturally. Yes, he looks good in the suit too. Honestly, I was distracted by his calf muscles a few times in that suit. Dang! He’s an ideal casting choice that makes you think there can’t ever be another actor who would do as well with a character with so many required layers. 

Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe in ‘Man of Steel’ Image: Warner Bros. via Popsugar

Clark is never without Lois, and Amy Adams is such a believable incarnation of her iconic character. She’s soft and human at all the right moments, but not delicate. Yet never loses the ‘never takes crap off of anyone’ attribute that drives Lois home as an award-winning writer. Some iterations of Lois have been too feminine, and others to tom-boyish. This version is an excellent mix of both critical aspects to her. 

So, is The Man of Steel worth your time? YES! It has drama, action, and charm rolled together in a well-told, developed story and a cast that is a perfect fit for their respective roles with great performances. Not sure yet because I don’t include details that spoil the magic? That’s cool. Just do an internet search for any of the three trailers that came out before the film’s debut. I’d recommend the second or third (the third one is below). By viewing them, you’ll get a much better feel for what I’m saying. Don’t worry if you’ve never read a comic before or know nothing about Superman; it won’t matter. This movie should be on your watch list! 

-a pen lady