Thursday, December 11, 2014

Movies Spotlight – December 2014 – Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott is a British film director and producer who has made many of our most iconic films since his breakthrough with 1979’s Alien. He is known for his stunning visuals and often his grand scale and scope.

This month he has a new epic – Exodus: Gods and Kings – telling the tale of Moses and Rhamses. They grew up as brothers (Moses, an adopted brother), but as they became men their paths deviated. Moses saw the tyranny by which Rhamses ruled and the cruelty he showed his slaves, many of which shared the same background as Moses. They were just less fortunate. Seeing only injustice, Moses decides to lead a slave rebellion against Rhamses with the endgame of finding the slaves a new home as freed men. Here is the trailer.

Early Career:

Scott attended the Royal College of Art, helping to establish its film department. He started making short films and working as a production designer during the early 1960s. He also began directing episodes of British television. In 1968, Scott and his brother Tony founded Ridley Scott Associates, a film and commercial production company. Scott directed numerous commercials during the 1970s.

In 1977 with The Duellists, Scott made his feature film directing debut. The film won Best First Film at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. The film is about two officers, D’Hubert and Feraud, who have a life-long grudge with one and other, engaging in multiple duels seeking justice for their perceived grievances.

Science Fiction:

The Duelists made Scott a star director overnight, allowing him to pursue projects in Hollywood. His initial plan was to next adapt Tristan and Iseult, but then he saw Star Wars. This changed everything. He became enthralled by large scale, effects-driven films and science fiction. Scott accepted the job to direct Alien. The film was a smash hit critically and commercially, as Scott expertly created a cinematic experience that is both a terrifying horror movie and a cool and visually impressive sci-fi adventure featuring a strong female lead (Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver). Directors are still trying to replicate it to this day (including Scott himself).

Next, Scott made what is probably an even better sci-fi film with 1982’s Blade Runner. Here, Scott works with Star Wars’ star Harrison Ford, in a film that blends sci-fi elements with a hard-boiled detective narrative. It is a masterpiece of design, style and directing. And, like Alien, Blade Runner again redefined the sci-fi genre.

From there, Scott made the adventure fantasy Legend, starring Tom Cruise, the poorly received crime drama Someone to Watch Over Me, and the action thriller Black Rain with Michael Douglas.

Scott once again found his touch with 1991’s Thelma & Louise, telling the tale of two women who murder a rapist and then go on the run. Again, Scott made a film that is iconic to this day (especially the film’s ending) – also, look out for a young Brad Pitt. Scott earned his first Best Director Oscar nomination for his work on the film.

Scott finished off the 1990s with three less than stellar outings. First, the Christopher Columbus biopic 1942: Conquest of Paradise (a film that paints Columbus as more of a villain, contrary to the popular view at the time), then the doomed sailing adventure drama White Squall, and finally G.I. Jane, an action drama starring Demi Moore about a woman who is offered the chance to be the first female trainee in the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL/C.R.T. selection program (it is probably Scott’s worst film to date).


In 2000, Scott directed his greatest critical triumph, Gladiator. The film also marks the director’s first collaboration with Russell Crowe, whom he has worked with four more times since. The film about a Roman general who is betrayed and sold into slavery only to return to Rome years later to seek revenge as a gladiator won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor (for Crowe). Scott received his second Best Director nomination.

Scott next made the forgettable The Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal (side note, watch Bryan Fuller’s TV series Hannibal; it is brilliant); however, he followed it up with his best film of the decade: Black Hawk Down. This war drama recounting the true events of a failed mission by U.S. armed forces in Somalia garnered Scott his third Best Director nomination. It is gripping and one of the best war films ever made.

Scott then directed the fun crime drama Matchstick Men about a phobic con artist and his protégé who are about to make a big score when his teenage daughter suddenly crashes the party. It features a great performance from Sam Rockwell.

Scott next returned to epic historical dramas with Kingdom of Heaven. The film has a massive scope and scale as well as a wonderful cast. Scott’s director’s cut of the film was deemed too long to be released in theaters by Twentieth Century Fox. Thus, they release a shorter, lesser cut. The film played to mild reviews and box office. Thankfully, Scott’s cut was eventually released. It is well worth seeking out.

Scott then set up three films with Russell Crowe to close out the decade. The first is the mediocre romance drama A Good Year about a career obsessed man who has a life revelation while in Provence. Next, the very good biographical gangster film American Gangster about Frank Lucas and the cop who took him down (Denzel Washington is quite good as Lucas). And lastly, the action thriller Body of Lies, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio. What makes the film unique and interesting (in addition to it being a strong thriller) is that it takes the position that maybe U.S. intelligence tactics are flawed.

Trying Something New & Revisiting the Past:

Okay, Scott made one more film with Russell Crowe, throwing his hat into the Robin Hood adaptation bin. The film finds Robin in the thirteenth century as a man who conspires to combat local corruption in his village – an uprising that leads to a power struggle with the crown itself. It was not well-received, but personally I think it is a decent enough action adventure drama.

Scott then decided to return to his past, making a prequel to maybe his most famous film, Alien, in the form of Prometheus. It is a highly flawed film, as the story and character motivations are pretty well ridiculous; but visually, it is marvelous. Scott again does make something that is stylistically impressive and fairly scary and thrilling as well. It is just too bad that the film makes almost no sense.

Author Cormac McCarthy writes very dense novels. The most popular adaptation of one of his works his the Coen BrothersNo Country for Old Men. McCarthy met with Scott, however, to try something different, making his first foray into screenwriting. Their collaboration gave birth to The Counselor, probably 2013’s most misunderstood film. It is brilliant, as it tackles the nature of good and evil within man, playing out mostly through a series of conversations. Critics and viewers expected something different, something more action-packed. It is a gem that will eventually find its audience.

Upcoming Projects:

Scott has a number of science fiction projects upcoming. The first, due in 2015, is The Martian. It is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars, struggling to survive until help can reach him (or her). Scott has assembled quite a cast with Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

In 2016 and beyond, Scott has a sequel to Prometheus, a sequel to Blade Runner and a sci-fi thriller series set up at Fox called The Hot Zone.

Scott Free, Producing Films and TV:

Through his production company Scott Free Productions, Scott has also produced a number of highly successful films and television programs. Here are the highlights: In Her Shoes, Tristan + Isolde, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cracks, The A-Team, The Grey, Stoker, Out of the Furnace, The Gathering Storm, The Company, The Good Wife, and The Pillars of the Earth.

Upcoming, Scott is producing the eagerly anticipated NFL Concussion drama (currently untitled) from Peter Landesman, starring Will Smith.

Career Highlights:

1)      The Duellists (1977) – director (Blu-ray, Video On-DemandTrailer)
2)      Alien (1979)* – director (Blu-ray, VideoOn-Demand, Trailer)
3)      Blade Runner (1982)* – director (Blu-ray, VideoOn-Demand, Trailer)
4)      Thelma & Louise (1991) – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
5)      Gladiator (2000) – director, producer (Blu-ray, VideoOn-Demand, Trailer)
6)      Black Hawk Down (2001)* – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
7)      Matchstick Men (2003) – director, producer (DVD, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
8)      Kingdom of Heaven (2005)* – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
9)      American Gangster (2007) – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
10)   Body of Lies (2008) – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
11)   Prometheus (2012) – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
12)   The Counselor (2013)* – director, producer (Blu-ray, Video On-Demand, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

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