Film Reviews: Crazy Covenant, Or Mother’s Post

May 24, 2022


Crazy Rich Asians / Directed by Jon M Chu / 13DLP

Live By Night / Directed by Ben Affleck / 16LPSV

Alien Covenant / Directed by Ridley Scott / 16HLV

Mother! / Directed by Darren Aronofsky / 18HLSV

The Post / Directed by Steven Spielberg / 13LV

Allied / Directed by Robert Zemeckis / 16LSV


The superficial-sounding title does this romantic comedy no favours. Though the narrative arc is similar to that in many of the film’s American counterparts, where those projects use crudeness and aggression to get cheap laughs, Crazy Rich Asians explores a few less familiar (to Western audiences, at any rate) cultural mores, all interlaced with each other. Here, there is the concern of middle class woman, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) about the expectations of her prospective in-laws, who are the sort of rich that makes Richard Branson look like an enthusiastic entrepreneur. Her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding) is a genuinely sweet, balanced, caring individual, but he chooses to not define himself by the family business and the billions it brings in. By and large, his relatives are less well-adjusted, and Rachel – capable and super-intelligent as she is – has her work cut out for her to fit in, particularly when faced with the brittle demeanour and critical perspectives of Nick’s mother, played with refined iciness by Michelle Yeoh. The dynamics of the Young family and their high society friends provide another layer of interest – part profoundly traditional (in their deference to their elders and the harshness of their successful work ethic) and part gallingly insincere (here, the connection to American rom-coms is stronger, but not complimentary). Director Jon M Chu has created a piece that combines gob-smacking glamour – exploring the five-star reaches of Singapore and Malaysia is fascinating – with warm humour and performances that give the on-screen relationships a pleasing authenticity, even as the Rachel and Nick and their allies navigate the cruelty that comes with riches and the envy associated with it. A satisfying, witty, charming film.


It sometimes feel a touch unfair that Ben Affleck, for all his success and awards, can be so easily cast aside by audiences who don’t agree with his latest choice in project (though, equally, there are a good many instances where a role – Batman in Batman Vs Superman, for instance – causes so much cringing that his reputation takes some time to recover). Live By Night has plenty in its favour – an authentic look and feel, the tropes that make gangster films in general thrilling, and a cast that includes Brendan Gleason, Zoe Saldana and Chris Cooper. And there are some crackling car chases and plenty of spitting Tommy guns. But there is no soul. Affleck’s Joe Coughlin is supposedly a bad guy with a good heart, but he never seems interesting enough to invest in fully, so the mechinations of the plot quickly become tedious rather than intriguing. There’s a certain moodiness and the aforementioned gangster film building blocks, but even those couple of facets are better combined elsewhere, and you may do better to look up one of those titles if you’re in a mood for this genre.


Like George Lucas, Ridley Scott created a rich, compelling universe with characters and monsters that viewers loved and loved to hate – and then wilfully chose to ruin it with reboots that add nothing to the original and rather annoy fans of the story to that point. Alien Covenant, the sequel to Prometheus, which was the prequel to Alien (if you need to mix up the order, that’s a bad sign), follows the most basic formula possible for this sort of sci-fi tale – a spaceship is heading for a far-off world, encountering a strange life form en route and making the mistake of allowing it into their midst. The twist here is that androids – part of the crew, now – complicate matters further, with their artificial intelligence making them as conniving and ambitious as their human counterparts. That basic plot outline, while not original, should at least be interesting, but extensive moralising and stodgy, excessively dense writing make a film featuring crazy space dinosaurs and the exploration of outer space somehow … boring. Michael Fassbender, a fine actor, is given the unwinnable (with this material) assignment of playing dual characters on either side of the good/bad line, and his failure to redeem the piece in any way is just one mark of what a lost cause it is.


Mother! is marketed as a horror film, and it’s certainly scary, though in different ways in particular segments of the film. Where it’s most effective is as an examination of a fractured relationship, and in the cruelty that slowly destroys a woman (Jennifer Lawrence). She lives with her husband (Javier Bardem), a writer, in a remote house in which he is trying to create his masterpiece, becoming ever more frustrated with his inability to do so. The unexpected arrival of a stranger (Ed Harris) gives the author a new focal point and suggests the possibilities of fresh ideas, but when the couples’ guest takes ever more outrageous liberties with their hospitality, the woman’s patience – and ultimately her sanity – are stretched beyond their limits. There is undeniable horror in the spitefulness with which the author treats his wife, and the sense of such behaviour being ordinary – outside of a scriptwriter’s imagination – may make you feel ill. Director Darren Aronofsky allows endless layers of this malice to build and swell until it feels almost unbearable. And if he had stopped it there, the piece would have been a drama that, while difficult to watch, was undeniably effective in revealing some of the worst examples of what humans are capable of. Instead, there is a surreal, bizarre coda that is also incredibly violent. In some ways, it is in keeping with the mood of the build-up, but by removing the possibility of the scenario existing in something like reality, it removes much of the story’s power.


Watching a newsroom procedural like The Post, set in the early Seventies and based on a true story about uncovering corruption in the US government (no need to create fiction, then), it is brought home to the viewer just how superficial most of the stories delivered to news consumers are today. Here are ethical decisions that will impact on the safety of the journalists involved and which may see an entire, important company shut down. There is the grit of what is now called “real” (it used to be simply “normal”) journalism and the slow building of a proper presentation of the facts, rather than just what will make it in by deadline time. On this evidence, there has been as little change in the politics inside a newspaper as there has been in governments, and the core of this piece is the tussle between The Washington Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and its publisher, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) – each trying to do their very different jobs properly and regularly clashing even as they try to make the paper the best it can be. Though not the best film in its genre, The Post is, as per expectations given the personnel involved, still an excellent, thought-provoking piece that underlines the importance of holding powerful people accountable, as well as the value of seeking out the full story before making up your mind on how to handle a complex situation.


The inherent drama of the Second World War, plus the talents of Robert Zemeckis and stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, should make for a successful formula, no questions asked. And Allied always looks good, with gorgeous costumes and detailed settings and locations that fit the story. But it is curiously dull, especially when considering that, while one of its themes is heroism, another is betrayal, which should create an atmosphere of unpredictability and ambiguity that keeps viewers on edge. For all the drama in the context that surrounds the story, though, the most effective part of what unfolds is the concept of having to choose between love for a soulmate (or someone who seemed like one) and loyalty to a flag and a notion of home that has been subtly redefined by the hardships and politics of war. That emotional tug of war does, at least, get communicated well, and as much of the rest of the piece chugs along without ever meeting the expectations raised by the involvement of the A-list personnel, that kernel of authenticity makes the piece worthwhile.