Tag: films (page 2 of 26)

Movie Review: Prometheus

I liked the first two Alien movies, and would happily watch either one again given the chance. I’m also a fan of Ridley Scott’s work in general, especially his Director’s Cuts. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron are some of my favorite actors working today. And science fiction is pet genre of mine, especially when it takes itself seriously and doesn’t go straight for space opera or overdoes the camp of the pulp sci-fi of yesteryear.

So why is my heart not jumping bloodily out of my chest with enthusiasm for Prometheus?

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The year is 2094. The Weyland Corporation has sponsored a pair of dedicated archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, to follow the evidence they’ve found that mankind was visited by alien beings in our ancient past. The starship Prometheus was built to find these aliens and discover what, if any, connection they have to our origins. Following star maps extrapolated from cave paintings, Prometheus sets down on an inhospitable moon and almost immediately finds evidence of the archaeologists’s fabled “Engineers”. They also find something that threatens all life as we know it, to say nothing of the crew of the ship.

Prometheus begins by introducing us to some very interesting themes, especially for a science fiction film involving starships and extra-terrestrials. The ‘chariot of the gods’ concept is becoming well-tread ground, from the Stargate series to recent things like Thor and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Rather than just focusing on the aliens themselves, Prometheus sets its sights on the questions inherent with such visitations. Why did they visit us? What role did they play in our development? If they had a hand in creating us, why did they do so? From my standpoint, the focus of the narrative could have been maintained on these questions rather than pushing towards familiar Alien territory.

Fassbender in Prometheus

Despite the breathtaking visuals, haunting score, and fantastic use of 3D (even in home theater settings), Prometheus suffers first and foremost from an identity crisis. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. A serious sci-fi film asking questions about faith, creationism, and the origins of life would be fascinating, the Alien franchise is desperate for a high-quality entry to redeem its dalliances with those wacky Predators, and Ridley Scott wouldn’t mind starting a new film series. Prometheus tries to do all of these things, admirably so, but fails in hitting the mark with any of them. The questions it wants to ask fall by the wayside when body horrors begin cropping up, the answers we do get tend to beget more questions, and characters, for the most part, behave more for the sake of advancing the plot than they do from their own motivations and personalities.

Consider David. Michael Fassbender is giving probably the strongest performance of the ensemble here, carefully channeling David Bowie into a soft-spoken android obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia. He doesn’t seem to be interested in being more human, regarding those around him with a detached curiosity rather than any longing, and it soon becomes apparent the Prometheus is something of a personal laboratory for him. However, his motives for his experimentation are tenuous at best, his methods make little logical sense, and what reasoning we do get seems to come in the form of throw-away lines and vague conversations on the relationship between creator and created. It’s cool that he has his own agenda, and he pulls of being a creepy facsimile of human life very well, but he, like much of Prometheus, is simply poorly explained.

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The biggest saving grace of the film is probably Elizabeth Shaw. Noomi Rapace is not just doing a send-up of Ripley. She’s also playing one of the few characters who acts in a consistent nature, uses their head on more than one occasion, and has an interesting arc complete with tangible loss, crises of faith, and a staggering amount of determination and survival instinct. It’s very difficult not to care about her after everything we see her going through, and like us, she’s still looking for the answers to her, and our, questions.

While Prometheus suffers from some pretty major problems, it’s still the best thing to happen to the series Ridley Scott started back in 1979 since Aliens. Scott does great work behind the camera and in terms of production, the actors I mentioned are all great, and the presentation is great, at times downright stunning. The problems with the plot and character motivations can’t be overlooked, though, so while it’s hard to classify it as a strictly bad movie, it’s also difficult to give an unqualified recommendation. Being a fan of this director, these actors, and this concept and its execution, I’d probably watch it again, as the parts I enjoyed outweighed those that left me perplexed or frustrated. Just be forewarned: I don’t think Prometheus is for everybody.

Bond Basics

Courtesy MGM

You know what I like about this Skyfall poster? It juxtaposes the classic image of the camera lens/gun barrel of Bond’s films with the stoic, no-nonsense stride of Daniel Craig. It indicates to me that the filmmakers are taking extra steps to connect this 21st-century iteration of the British superspy with his roots. Since my favorite Bond is still Sean Connery, followed closely by Craig, I’m a big fan of the very notion. Between the two of them, they’re the closest the films have been to Ian Fleming’s original vision of James Bond.

Fleming’s Bond was, in the broad strokes, a very British version of the pulp hard-boiled detective popular in the 50s and 60s. Fueled by cigarettes and martinis, Bond was a professional assassin wrapped in a fine suit, maintaining his cover through flippant remarks and dalliances with women. Securely rooted in Fleming’s own real-world experiences with British intelligence and military operations, it had a sense of realism to it that underscored the action and raised the tension.

Sean Connery did a fantastic job balancing the stoic, professional interior and suave exterior required for Bond. Following Fleming’s death, however, the films began to change. With Roger Moore replacing Connery and the society of the time being all about glitz, glamour, and swinging, James Bond became all about the image, with cool gadgets and a parade of disposable women becoming his weapons against a rather colorful if somewhat shallow rogue’s gallery of cartoonish villains. While I’m never one to disparage camp, and think Moore’s Bond films are fine, it’s clear that they’re a departure from Fleming’s original intent for the character.

While Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan both made attempts to make the character a bit more grounded, elements of Moore’s years lingered. It wasn’t until Casino Royale in 2006 that James Bond returned to his basics, and in fact the very beginning. The film stayed very close to the thread of the novel, and Daniel Craig showed Bond as somewhat inexperienced, a little raw and unrefined; he isn’t wearing the suit until Vesper puts him in it, and even then he’s not comfortable with it at first. Even Roger Moore himself praised the new Bond. After re-establishing himself, though, Bond struggled to find his identity in the day and age of Jason Bourne, with this film and Quantum of Solace only standing out because of Craig and his character’s relationship with Dame Judi Dench as M.

While the last two films seemed to focus mostly on Bond being an international force for good, even if he is somewhat brutish in his ultimate methods, Skyfall looks to be bringing things home. Even the brief glimpse of the teaser released this week shows a Bond we may not have seen in years, if we’ve seen him before at all:

Other than the plethora of very British images, the fantastic word association bit lets us just a bit into Bond’s mind. When confronted with the word ‘Skyfall’, Bond does not betray emotion or flip the table; he simply, politely, and firmly ends the session and walks away. We see international locals with a very definite sense of identity (something Quantum of Solace was lacking) and Bond appears to be very calmly and confidently going about his business. I know it’s just a teaser, and it never does to get one’s hopes up, it seems clear to me that director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Jarhead, True Grit) are on to something.

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Bond film in quite some time. I look forward to seeing it in October.

Hyped Up or Hyped Out?

Fassbender in Prometheus

Another featurette from Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Prometheus is available for viewing. As excited as I am for the film, and in light of my peculiar adoration of Michael Fassbender, the temptation is to jump all over it and begin salivating. However, I think I’ve reached the saturation point of hype. If I watch any more promotional material, my enthusiasm may begin to diminish. I am, in a sense, hyped out.

A friend of mine is in a similar situation with The Avengers. I offered to link him the latest clip of a conversation between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov, but he politely declined. There’s simply so much hype out there that maintaining a heightened level of enthusiasm gets exhausting after a while. I’m sure the film will be fun, but it’s entirely possible that there’s too much hype getting built up around it.

As positive as “the buzz” may be for these films, there’s that little part of me that warns me about something being over-hyped. More than once, especially in films and video games, a hot new title has been hyped all over the place only to ultimately disappoint its would-be fans once released. Only the most ignorant and wide-eyed optimists can ignore such cautionary tales and believe that whatever it is that’s being hyped will be 110% awesome.

Then again, despite not watching further promotional material, these films are still being discussed. So perhaps the hype has done its job already? It’s difficult to say. There may not, in fact, be such a thing as too much hype. I’m not certain. I’m not in marketing. I always feel a bit odd shilling things I do, but I guess I need to get over that if I intend on selling my writing.

Regarding Ms. Lane

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Laundry nights at the Sheppard’s1 have become a good place to get caught up on movies, especially in the superhero genre. Being brought up as a nerd, I do have at least a passing familiarity with many a costumed crimefighter, and recently our friends reintroduced us to the cinematic renditions of one of the most famous. I don’t want to actually talk about the Man of Steel himself, though, as he can be a tad ridiculous at times.

I still can’t get over the absurdity of his three Kryptonian mates having vocal conversations on the surface of the moon. Even if they don’t have to breathe, how will their words reach each other’s ears if there is no air to carry the sound waves? Ahh, but I digress.

We only watched the first two Christopher Reeve & Richard Donner films, as the second two are abominations of cinema. I did, however, enjoy seeing the Donner cut of Superman II, especially the scene where Lois Lane gets Clark Kent to reveal his secret identity by pulling a gun on him. It can be easy to forget, especially on the parts of the writers of said funny books & big-budget movies, that when she isn’t getting rescued by Superman or pining after the cut physique poured into those tights, Lois Lane is an intrepid reporter.

You don’t see it as much as you might think, as apparently Superman battling giant robots, space monsters and a bald maniacal businessman is more interesting. But a great example of bringing this aspect of the story and this character to the forefront is Superman Returns.

While the film is a bit more somber and character-driven than its early 80s predecessors2, and most of its plot is lifted directly from the first movie, one thing that stood out at me is how we see Lois Lane. We see her as not just the token damsel in distress. We see Lois do some actual reporting. We watch her fight for what she feels is right, be it with her boss or the man who left her behind without a word. We get to know her as a mother. And while she does get into peril from which Superman must save her, she puts herself in peril to save him.

I know there are going to be people who disagree with me, but I think this Lois Lane, the one brought to us by Kate Bosworth, may be the best one put on screen. I’m not sure exactly how much Lois is supposed to be a sex symbol in comparison to, say, Catwoman, but the decision to keep Kate’s looks and fashion somewhat understated was a good one. Her moments of strength, vulnerability, doubt and resolve come across as more uncontrived and genuine because we’re not distracted by her looks.

This speaks to a strong script as well as good acting and mature costume & makeup decisions. Now, a lot of the good lines from Superman Returns were recycled from the first film along with most of the plot, but the emotional talks between Lois and her preternatural paramour felt new and real. Superman is a good person who’s made bad decisions. When confronted with the fallout from those decisions, he owns up to his mistake and seeks ways to make things right. Lois does not immediately forgive him and fall into his arms. She’s conflicted, a thousand emotions competing for her focus and running all over her face. I know there’s a lot of Superman Returns that rips off Donner’s work, but there’s a scene or two where we catch a glimpse of some really interesting things that could have (and perhaps should have) happened with these characters.

In a world where DC’s rebooted most of its female characters to be vehicles for cleavage and consequence-free sex, I’ll take Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane over a thousand Catwomen3.

1 Not to be confused with the Shepard’s place. How cool would it be to do my laundry on the Normandy?
2 Actually, the original Superman is as old as I am. How about that!
3 Of course I make an exception for Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. She’s pretty much perfect.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


Believe it or else, our planet has finite space and resources. One of these days we’re going to have to take measures to make the most of what we have left or, more ideally, look to the other planets in our solar system for expansion. Our moon is closest but doesn’t have much in the way of atmosphere. Mars is comparable in size but presents other challenges. Red Planet is a film that addresses those challenges… kind of… while being a character-driven tale of the unknown in space… sort of.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures

Heading to the crimson world of the title is a crew of six people: the no-nonsense female commander, the young and handsome co-pilot, a senior science officer who’s also a philosopher, two civilian scientists who cover the ‘agnostic’ and ‘naive’ portions of the crew and the ‘space janitor’, a mechanical maintenance expert. Together, they board the experimental craft Mars One and head to the distant sanguine rock to determine of human experiments with algae and habitation enclosures have succeeded. They don’t even get to the surface before things start going wrong.

In a cinematic environment where the likes of Greengrass and Bay have risen to superstardom despite shakey cameras and bewildering choices in special effects, I can’t help but praise a film like Red Planet for clean, sharp visuals. The construction of the vehicles and structures feels authentic, and it takes things into account like the time delay in communications and the low gravity on Mars. Little things like that endear me towards this movie, since there’s some science in the science fiction. It’s not like Pitch Black where the orientation of planets to stars makes no logical sense. So it earns points from me in that regard.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
The wild space janitor in his natural habitat.

However, where Red Planet suffers is in the area of characters. We get… two, maybe three. Carrie-Anne Moss does a good job with her commander character, even if it feels a bit like Trinity with more emotion and snark. Tom Sizemore is always good, and I couldn’t help but like Val Kilmer’s space janitor even if he did pull the dull surprise face more often than he should. The big problem with the characters, other than Benjamin Bratt and Simon Baker being stock cardboard cutouts and Terence Stamp delivering all of his lines with the same amount of stoic gravitas, is that none of them have a sense of wonder about Mars. I mean, yeah, they’re in a bad situation there and they need to puzzle out what happened and why, but dammit, they’re on Mars. It’s pretty significant for them to be there. I mean, Bear Grylls can muster up wonder about the places he wanders around in Man vs. Wild, and that’s stuff here on Earth. These guys are on a different planet and very few eyelashes are batted.

This could be related to the other major problem with the movie, which is plotlines. There are simply too many of them. I’m all for complex stories built in layers with subplots tying into each other, but every plotline in Red Planet is given the full treatment. Every obstacle and mystery is given equal time which leads to too little character development and too much going on. Just one of the problems at hand – the damage to the ship, the destruction of the habitat module, the disappearance of the algae – could have dominated the plot with others being sub-plots. But Red Planet shoots itself in the foot in terms of pace and plotting by throwing all of this at us with a very minimal sense of timing and prudence. What begins as a plausible exploration of the first steps to colonizing Mars turns into a typical survival sci-fi/horror mix, and at points in the story when things look like they might become interesting, the writers go the lazy route every time.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
The space suits and equipment feel mostly authentic, more Mass Effect than Star Trek.

After all of the big ideas that are part of its setup, Red Planet feels like its playing it safe. Instead of being challenging in its execution, developing complex characters or shining a light on the eventual need for humanity to do something about the state of the planet, it blows right past those interesting ideas to get our characters to an obstacle course about as interesting as one from an episode of Ninja Warrior or Wipeout! but without the hilarious commentary and trappings. It’s disheartening to start strong with an interesting premise and characters with potential only to see them dribble away one at a time as the movie lurches towards its false-tension climax and pat ending. Every time Red Planet should zig, it zags. It’s just kind of sad.

However, the good news is that while it disappoints in story and characters, the execution for the most part makes Red Planet relatively harmless. It’s not as brainy and full of itself as some other science fiction exploration films like 2001 or Mission to Mars, the characters we do get are decent enough, and there are a handful of moments that speak to the potential this movie, this story and these characters might have had. There’s a good time to be had with Red Planet, and you can probably develop a decent drinking game to go with it, so yeah, I’d put it in the recommendation column for at least one viewing if you’re a fan of sci-fi or any of the aforementioned actors. Just be aware that, about the time we see three men take the first piss on Mars, this movie’s also pissing away a lot of potential.

Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures

But hey, at least with the clean visuals and straightforward, non-obscure plot, we can understand what the hell is going on. I just wish the goings-on were more interesting. I mean, come on, people… it’s Mars. I guess we’ll have to wait for the screen adaptation of John Carter for things to really pick up on the red planet.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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