Billy Crudup

Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

Alien: Covenant is at its best when it’s pedestrian as opposed to anything else. Director Scott botches all of the big action set pieces; the more CGI vehicles involved, the worse it gets. The first false ending action sequence has “protagonist” Katherine Waterston suspended in mid-air from a careening CGI space ship while she fights a CGI alien in front of a CGI backdrop. Scott brings zero energy to it, which is appropriate as Waterston brings zero energy to her performance.

Waterston gets second-billing, even though technically Billy Crudup’s deeply religious captain gets more to do. He actually gets to do something with his character arc. Waterston’s is all in the first act and the film rushes through it. In space, no one has time for character development, especially not when Scott is setting up the film’s premise.

A colony ship experiences a freak accident then discovers a mysterious signal from far away. So they go and investigate. Aliens and another Michael Fassbender (he’s already in the movie on the ship) show up to make things difficult. The Fassbender they find is the one from the previous movie in the franchise–Prometheus, not Alien: Resurrection, though John Logan and Dante Harper’s script is loaded with desperate callbacks to the original series. Even more desperate is when Scott tries to do them. All it does is remind not just of better films but better acted ones.

Fassbender is fine, though a little too restrained for the absurd roles he’s got. Playing opposite himself, his ability results in some good scenes–made pedestrian by Chris Seagers’s worst production design on the film–but everyone else is mediocre at best. Crudup occasionally seems like he might try, but there’s nothing to do with the part it turns out so he gives up. Carmen Ejogo is so wasted as his wife, it’s never clear if she’s religious too (religion is frowned upon in the future, something the disasterous outcomes of the plot confirm as a good). Danny McBride has a big part as one of the ship’s pilots. He’s atrocious and not even comically so, because Scott has absolutely no sense of humor. Not even when he’s desperately trying to remind the viewer they probably liked at least the first two Alien movies.

Besides Fassbender, who’s uneven in one of his roles–he kind of flops with the blandly American accent–Demián Bichir is probably best. He’s got nothing to do, but at least he never embarrasses himself.

The score is either Jed Kurzel’s generic action music or Jerry Goldsmith’s themes from the original Alien; in space, the nostalgia is strong.

The sad part is even when he’s not contending with too much CGI, Scott just doesn’t have the pacing. Not to make it scary, not to make it exciting. Though he’s not the problem. Not even the script is the problem (well, not until the tacked on, way too long third act); it’s Waterston, Crudup, McBride, and the assorted supporting cast members who have no presence and only occasional competence. Scott doesn’t seem to think directing his actors is important. It’s not clear what he thinks is important to direct in Alien: Covenant. He’s not even energetic enough to be desperate.

Dariusz Wolski’s photography is mostly good. Not so much when he’s in Seagers’s dreary catacombs or any of the night scenes. But he’s much better at lighting Covenant than, say, Pietro Scalia is at editing it. Everything, even when it’s genially pedestrian, goes on too long.

Kind of like this franchise, at least with Scott steering it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Jed Kurzel; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by David Giler, Walter Hill, Scott, Mark Huffam, and Michael Schaefer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Michael Fassbender (David / Walter), Katherine Waterston (Daniels), Billy Crudup (Oram), Danny McBride (Tennessee), Demián Bichir (Lope), Carmen Ejogo (Karine), and Amy Seimetz (Faris).


The Watch (2012, Akiva Schaffer)

The Watch deals in caricature and stereotype. Ben Stiller’s the anal-retentive, Vince Vaughn (can anyone even remember when he tried acting) is the aging bro, Jonah Hill’s the kid in his early twenties who lives with his mom (and hordes guns, which dates the film) and Richard Ayoade’s the deadpan, socially awkward British guy. If anything, hopefully The Watch at least got one person to see Ayoade’s good work.

Oh, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s the sturdy, but doesn’t have enough to do wife (to Stiller). Actually, more than anyone else in the cast, Will Forte has the most to do as the dumb local cop. He at least gets to emote. Vaughn should get to emote because he has a whole (lame) subplot with daughter Erin Moriarty (who, like DeWitt, Forte and Ayoade, acts instead of apes), but it’s Vaughn and he doesn’t. Obnoxious charm is supposed to carry him, just like awkward charm is supposed to carry Hill and persnickety charm is supposed to carry Stiller.

Watching The Watch, I couldn’t help but think of it as ephemera. None of the jokes are smart enough on their own– Jared Stern’s script, with a credited revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has no aspirations. Not even to be appreciated multiple times. The Watch is designed to amuse once and never too much. Thanks to Akiva Shaffer’s mediocre direction, comes off like an unambitious episode of “Home Improvement.” One with a lot of product placement.

But, thanks to the cast, it’s amusing enough. They’re good at their schticks and the movie does move rather well. It’s a little too forced with its attempts at edgy humor, but the whole thing is too forced. Shaffer’s doing an alien invasion movie without, apparently, any knowledge of any alien invasion film ever made.

Really bland photography from Barry Peterson doesn’t help anything and Christophe Beck’s music (which starts all right) doesn’t either.

In trying too hard to be dumb, The Watch occasionally succeeds. Though the pointlessness of Billy Crudup’s (uncredited) supporting role sort of sums up the entire misdirection of the film.

Everyone should watch “The IT Crowd” instead.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Akiva Schaffer; written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Shawn Levy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Stiller (Evan), Vince Vaughn (Bob), Jonah Hill (Franklin), Richard Ayoade (Jamarcus), Rosemarie DeWitt (Abby), Erin Moriarty (Chelsea), Will Forte (Sgt. Bressman), R. Lee Ermey (Manfred) and Billy Crudup (Paul).


Watchmen (2009, Zack Snyder), the director’s cut

This response will be double length. Well, double length minus ten words. Wait, twelve. No, fifteen. Well, you get the idea.

Watchmen doesn’t get a double post because it’s good. It gets a double post because it is, as far as I can tell, the first utterly pretentious film from a filmmaker–Zack Snyder–who seems to think an episode of “Gobots” is better than an episode of “Hill Street Blues.” I’m not sure even the premiere purveyor of crap–Stephen Sommers–would go so far. (This “Gobots” reference is made up, but it seems about right).

But Watchmen isn’t terrible in some ways. A friend of mine said it was a good case in point for the potential of superhero movies. Except, in this new wave of superhero movies, it doesn’t have a place. The comic book was a comment on the comic book industry–not to mention certain comic book creators’ political views (it’s not like Snyder’s commenting on Jon Favreau apparently being a rabidly anti-French dimwit)–and the film can’t possibly comment on any of the current wave of comic book films, because it’s an adaptation of the comic book. I read Snyder claim the film was his response, as the comic had been to comic books, to superhero movies. But it’s the stupidest thing I think I’ve heard since Walter Hill said he was going to improve on Kurosawa.

Watchmen has some good acting. Patrick Wilson is good, Jackie Earle Haley is good, Billy Crudup’s voice acting is decent, Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t terrible. With Haley and Wilson the ostensible leads, it works out all right. And the whole thing is such a spectacle, even the awful acting doesn’t ruin it. Matthew Goode is lousy. Carla Gugino’s performance as a sixty-seven year-old woman is hilariously awful and I probably would have been ejected from the theater for laughing at her hysterically. Malin Akerman gives one of the worst performances I can think of in a major studio film in the last twenty years. I have no evidence and I’m just guessing, but I think she got cast because she was willing to take her clothes off. Because it sure wasn’t because she had any acting ability. Her scenes with Wilson are awful.

The special effects aren’t terrible but the digital sets are lousy. The Vietnam scenes are without horizon lines, sort of pre-Renaissance. The soundtrack is atrocious. It might be the worst thing about Watchmen, besides Snyder’s slow motion effects and Ackerman’s non-acting. Snyder cheapens his scenes. It isn’t about how he adapted the comic book, it’s about how he turned it into an episode of the “Wonder Years” or something.

Worst might be how Snyder keeps showing the World Trade Center. It isn’t part of the 1985 New York cityscape, it’s an object he repeatedly focuses attention on. It’s pornographic. Especially in a story supposedly about a large number of people senselessly dying.

And it doesn’t feel like three hours.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zack Snyder; screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by William Hoy; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Alex McDowell; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder; released by Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures.

Starring Malin Akerman (Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Jon Osterman / Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach / Walter Kovacs), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Edward Blake / The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre), Matt Frewer (Edgar Jacobi / Moloch), Stephen McHattie (Hollis Mason / Old Nite Owl), Laura Mennell (Janey Slater) and Rob LaBelle (Wally Weaver).


Dedication (2007, Justin Theroux)

Is it possible to use The Doors’ “The End” without it recalling Apocalypse Now? Even if it’s just the opening snippet.

No, it’s not. Especially not when you do it twice like Theroux does in Dedication.

But Theroux harkening back to great films (or, hey, if he even harkened back to a mediocre one) would be such a vast improvement over what he does, which is hard to describe. It’s kind of like an insincere rip-off of Darren Aronofsky (Theroux doesn’t fully commit to the high contrast shots or the jump cuts, only using them for transitions), with a terrible script and a lot better actors than the film deserves. Tom Wilkinson is, admittedly, hacking it out here, but he’s very good at hacking it out. Bob Balaban, essentially playing an R-rated version of his “Seinfeld” character, is fine.

As for Mandy Moore, she’s one of the worst actresses I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing perform. She’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen in a film given a theatrical release (since the advent of direct-to-video). Indescribable.

And Billy Crudup, long the best actor not working? Well, that title’s certainly no longer applicable. It’s not so much his fault–it’s the awful script. Crudup’s character is probably an undiagnosed, certainly unmedicated schizophrenic who the viewer is supposed to find hilarious at some times and tragic at others–when all the guy really needs is some therapy and a lot of meds.

Theroux has obviously watched a bunch of movies preparing for his directorial debut but he must have watched bad ones (obviously, given the Aronofsky references). His framing is all slightly off, which I think is supposed to make Dedication look “cool,” but instead it looks incompetent.

I’d been looking forward to Dedication–Crudup in a lead, the story kind of sounded like George Sanders in Rebecca, only modernized–but it’s utter crap. Oddly though, given how bad Crudup’s movies of the last six or seven years have been… seeing him in such an excremental waste of time is unsurprising.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Theroux; written by David Bromberg; director of photography, Stephen Kazmierski; edited by Andy Keir; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Teresa Mastropierro; produced by Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Galt Niederhoffer; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Billy Crudup (Henry Roth), Mandy Moore (Lucy Riley), Tom Wilkinson (Rudy Holt), Martin Freeman (Jeremy), Bob Balaban (Mr. Planck), Dianne Wiest (Carol), Christine Taylor (Allison), Amy Sedaris (Sue) and Bobby Cannavale (Don).


Monument Ave. (1998, Ted Demme)

An utterly depressing Mean Streets knock-off–but beautifully directed by Ted Demme, who manages to make it both derivative and affecting–which might not have much potential, but certainly has the cast for it. Even though Denis Leary is over forty as the guy who wants to get out but they keep pulling him back in–and, honesty, if the film had taken Leary’s age into account, it would have been a lot better–he’s real good. It helps Demme shoots it so well, but the movie’s got a great cast.

Besides Leary–and Billy Crudup, fantastic in a small role–there’s, in particular, Ian Hart and Colm Meaney. Hart’s got the sidekick role. He doesn’t do anything to break out of it, but he inhabits it perfectly. Meaney’s the heavy and he’s great at it, looking like he should be having more fun than he is–but he never lets the character go wild like most heavies in the genre do and the result is a much finer performance. Meaney and Leary are both these exhausted men… one of the other nuances ignored.

There are some mediocre performances, of course, given this one’s a neo-indie film from the late 1990s and everyone has to be a name. Famke Janssen, for example, isn’t entirely bad, but she is completely unbelievable as the neighborhood girl who never could get away. Noah Emmerich, however, is just bad. And Martin Sheen turns in one of his least impressive performances ever.

But John Diehl’s great.

Demme also shoots these wonderful drug use scenes–I suppose, given his death by overdose, it would have been better if he’d shot them poorly–and he really makes Monument Ave. work better than the script deserves. Besides some stylistic flourishes on Demme’s part, as well as the good acting, nothing makes the movie stand out. To some degree, those qualities ought to be enough, but Demme was obviously trying for more… but the script just doesn’t have anything more to give.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Demme; written by Mike Armstrong; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Todd Kasow; production designer, Ruth Ammon; produced by Joel Stillerman, Demme, Jim Serpico, Adam Doench, Nicolas Clermont and Elie Samaha; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Denis Leary (Bobby), Ian Hart (Mouse), John Diehl (Digger), Jason Barry (Seamus), Noah Emmerich (Red), Billy Crudup (Teddy), Greg Dulli (Shang), Famke Janssen (Katy), Colm Meaney (Jackie O’Hara), Martin Sheen (Hanlon) and Jeanne Tripplehorn (Annie).


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