6.21.2012

AVENGERS - YAWN

This spoof of Iron Man at left kinda sums up my feeling about the Avengers movie. It was serviceable. It was functional. It did the job. And Iron Man was the brightest, shiniest thing in it. But I can't say I had an emotional reaction to any of it. Quite a lot of script jujitsu was employed to connect all the things we've seen in other Marvel movies featuring these characters and it did end up all making sense - the way a complex series of strings connecting points on a map plotting out crimes makes sense, but it lent nothing to the drama at hand. Joss Whedon seemed intent on crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's, but it was a big so what - only the comics geeks will care. It was like watching a gymnastics routine or maybe an ice skating routine at the Olympics and the athlete nails it technically perfectly but without grace and elan or any sense of verve or spontaneity. It felt inorganic and leaden. The actors were all good, and the dialog was pretty crisp and finally a Hulk that looked and acted as it should. The best moment in the whole thing is when the Hulk smashes Loki like a rag-doll. Gwyneth Paltrow is aging well - never looked better (has a small role). Please please let David Lynch or Paul Verhoeven or Peter Greenaway do an Inhumans movie and give us fans something interesting.

6.07.2012

PROMETHEUS REVIEW

RIDLEY SCOTT JUST DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT ANYMORE
Rated:
Review:
I had high hopes I’d be pleasantly surprised by the new Alien film Prometheus since Ridley Scott was taking another stab at the story. Instead I feel like I had my intelligence assaulted throughout every single moment of the film - almost a torture. It might well be one of the most terrible films I’ve ever seen. Imagining it as a stand-alone film it would be an okay B-movie because there are no expectations. But this story has a pedigree – a checkered one to be sure (Alien III and Alien Resurrection being the ugly step-children), but there stands a singular classic at the beginning of this family line with Alien and a powerful first-born which followed and charted its own course in James Cameron's actioner, Aliens.

Ridley Scott has clearly just given up as an artist. He doesn’t care anymore. Gladiator wasn’t half the movie that Troy was, yet a dumbed-down public loved it and Academy members voted it best picture that year. Robin Hood couldn't even lure me in for more than 20 minutes of my time. Scott has not done a first-rate film on par with his best since Hannibal. He has so many producing projects that he obviously just isn’t devoting the time to his directing duties. In an appropriate irony he brought on board Damon Lindelof (of LOST fame) to punch up the script for Prometheus and it was a terrible mistake – after all Lindelof gave us the cop-out it was all a death fever-dream ending to LOST. 


I’m sure there is plenty of blame to go around for one of the worst scripts I’ve ever seen put on screen. The dialog is so sophomoric, hackneyed and clich├ęd that you just felt like you were being beaten with a stupid stick as horrid line after horrid line of dialog penetrated your ears. Not to mention the sweepingly ridiculous plot structure. Soon after the open, our intrepid crew enters the atmosphere of the destination moon and are almost instantly over the area of the temples with nary a mention of having to, er, search them out, nor a mention of the Nazca Plains-like markings so clearly visible on the ground ... or that there are obviously several temples in a row and which one should we investigate first? Nope, they just land and go to the first one (we've got a sequel to get to). 

The original film Alien was not just a classic horror film but genius on film – the perfect combination of visual style, tight direction, wonderful performances, great conceptual art and production design, and a perfect build-up of suspense and then release at the finale. The tight-knit ensemble cast caught the ethos of the era with the clever but spare script by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett – the world is fucked, everything is corrupt, just look out for yourself and those you love sense of anomie that pervaded the culture in the late 70s was caught perfectly in the words and the actors’ conveyance of those words. The audience was with these people, rooted emotionally in their survival and desire to understand why the big, bad corporation would put them in this situation and how they would survive.

Contrast the perfect origin film with the mess that is Prometheus. First, I guess Scott wanted to work with Charlize Theron or something because her character Vickers is entirely useless to the story and could have been written out easily … as could the part of Peter Weyland played by Guy Pearce in some crappy old-man make-up. The big bad evil corporation could have been referenced in other ways.

The only thing I did like were some visual references to the first Alien film. David’s interface helmet has yellow light, as do many of the other CGI interface panels and small blinking lights in hallways and such – referencing the look of the master computer Mother in the original film. And many corridors and hallways and rooms were made to look as if they could be earlier versions of what the Nostromo might end up looking like. [Note to sequel writers: If Nostromo is so much more low-tech looking in Alien and it is 90 years after Prometheus then maybe the equipment needs to be simpler because the mining crews are in hypersleep so much longer - that's a way to explain the lack of flashy touch-screens and pop-up CGI animations in the first film.]

I’m getting ahead of myself. Prometheus is that film which has artificial drama at almost every turn. Lights flash, buzzers sound, people shout with a sense of urgency when there is none. People could have talked in a normal tone of voice, walked rather than run, and so on. Contrast with the original Alien when each light, sound, reaction shot to camera by an actor, and spoken word felt absolutely necessary and organic to the genuine drama unfolding. Fake Prometheus drama: a sudden storm compels the action forward at one point and again lends to a contrived sense of urgency. Oh no, someone is trapped outside and must be rescued – ho-hum. People get lost when they have locators. [Oh, and every single important moment from the film was indeed given away in the trailers and my earlier post below did state the obvious in its predictions.]

The onslaught of stupid begins early in the film as they get right to the ship en-route to LV-223 (or whatever the number, which they'll change to LV 426 for the sequel) after the cave-painting “it’s an invitation” stuff (and once again we're on a space ship with cocktail bars, couches, a pool table (!) and other high-end hotel amenities … contrast that with the realistic spare digs of the Nostromo from Alien)  … once they wake the crew from their sleep chambers we get lots of Aliens-type dialog – not just an homage to James Cameron’s version but a lazy straight-lift of the scene and it is lame … it is getting so painful to watch these let’s introduce the characters to the audience as sketch outlines and spew character-specific one-liners that I just physically cringed – also, way too many characters for one thing  (that we never get to know nor care about as they die). In fact it is Aliens which is referenced in Prometheus more than Alien, which is interesting since you would think Scott would want to put his own stamp back on the story. The ground vehicle they drive to the temple look familiar? (and why exactly were there two extra little buggy vehicles at all? – they lent no value to the story and had no logic behind them and were used at times for artificial drama).

David the Android: Fassbender is a terrific actor and did as good a job as was possible with such a terrible script. The fascination with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia and dying the hair was just too cute and distracting. I guess that's the writers’ way of showing these early android models were “twitchy?” as referenced in a later film.  I guess because audiences since the Gen-X era have gotten successively dumber we get hit over the head with the David is weird looks and creepy lines again and again. One look and one line would have sufficed to intrigue and engage an alert audience. All that was left was for him to wear a trench coat and flash us. Oh, and the whimsy. A whimsical android? An early model that was this way? To show how truly truly bereft of ideas the writers responsible for this pile of rubbish were we got David as the disembodied head as yet another straight-lift (Ash in the original film).

Many of the crew (were there 12, 20 or 40 of them?) get killed and you don’t care – again with the artificial drama … if we didn’t know them and they weren’t doing anything important, whey have them at all and why kill them?

There are two mega-stupid parts in the film. In the first, an infected crewman wants back on the ship (one of the bad actors, more on that later) and Theron’s character comes down to say no way and then she opens the ship bay door! If she didn’t want him on, why would she open that door? So she burns him alive later, but still. Then there is lead actress Noomi Rapace doing the Ripley surrogate character and she is a bore, for one, but the writers have her get into a surgical machine to remove the alien she’s had surreptitiously implanted in her by David (via a surrogate – sex with her infected boyfriend). The machine cuts her, removes the creature and staples her up and then for the next 20 minutes she is climbing, jumping, running non-stop and it is beyond-the-pale idiotic. Er, those staples wouldn’t work themselves loose? Her guts wouldn’t come spilling out? She didn’t need to rest and courses of antibiotics after major invasive abdominal surgery? She's healed up enough to take an android head and go find the Space Jockey homeworld?

The helmets: we get told that there is atmosphere being created in the temple and they can go helmet-less inside and in scene after scene in there, no helmets (not even carried on their backs). Did they just leave them in that room that was doing the “terraforming” (another cheap nod to another film in the franchise) … what if they needed their helmets in some part they had not seen yet? Dumb, scientifically dumb (and there are 100 other instances of bad science in the film).

The most cringe-worthy of the dumb bits has to be when the captain crudely seduces Theron’s character Vickers. This just would not happen. We had never seen established that they even knew each other (of course they did, she hired him but that was not shown). The actor playing the captain was a pretty bad actor, and his dialog was terrible too - he was less than a sketch of a character. The captain was so detached and unprofessional toward the mission and exuded zero authority that it defied logic that such a person would be in charge of this “trillion dollar” mission. At the end when the captain and two surviving crewmembers volunteer to smash the Prometheus into the Space-Jockey ship and make a rousing suicide war cry while they do it it is embarrassing to watch it is so hackneyed. Other bad actors were the boyfriend scientist with the worm in his eye (he’s a scientist and doesn’t tell anyone?), the tattooed guy and the nerd guy with glasses. All were bland or hokey or just bad. The medical assistant lady was clearly a nod to Veronica Cartwright from Alien with a similar look but otherwise lent nothing to the story.

What we get is a lot of bells and whistles and bright shiny things, but a lousy story with gargantuan plot-holes, an infection of inanity and way too many cute references to the other films. They have their conference in a bay that reminds you of the end of Aliens. The table they dine at is meant to remind you of the scene with John Hurt and the chest-burster. The David-head.

The greatest crime of the film is what I predicted in my earlier post, that they would make the horror mundane by making it literal and that is exactly what they did. The magnificent and mysterious chamber of the derelict ship with the creature sitting in the giant chair in Alien is now a pasty-skinned buff 7-footer with a helmet that has the elephant snout. We saw all kinds of CGI glowy lights in that metal room. We were compelled to believe that the organic look to the metal came from the Space Jockeys’ pathogen covering the metal of their ship, whereas the original art by H.R. Giger for the first Alien film was always about integration of the organic and machine as is Giger's vision, not organic veneer covering machine so Lindelof can connect-the-dots for his sequels.

I could I go on. The worms in the soil at the temple. Did some PA just grab a handful outside the soundstage one day for Scott to shoot? Were they indigenous to the moon? If so, why were they never before integrated and co-opted by the malignant organics of the vase jars (which by Nostromo’s time 90 years later when John Hurt’s character Kane finds them have an organic outer layer that appears all organic)? Were these tiny worms brought by the humans? Was that room sealed all that time from them if they were a local lifeform? Because in short order the gooey black organic oil oozing from the vase jars transmogrifies them to dangerous eel throat-stuffers. Later the alien the Ripley knock-off cuts out of herself (the mean little bugger held in place despite violent struggle by a simple pair of forceps) looks like a squid-thingy. And at the end the squid-thingy has in less than an hour grown room-size huge and quickly throat-stuffs and births its offspring out of the last Space Jockey into a full-grown proto-alien complete with extending inner jaw (snap-snap) and (this must be a joke) a complete set of what look like porcelin veneers on human chompers in its main outer mandible. I wanted to throw something at the screen. 


Oh, the score, I've read several people say they like the score. Listen to Wrath of Khan (pretty darn close) and other elements are very similar to other soundtracks too - I found it unremarkable or evocative of other films if not dangerously similar in legal terms.


Want to read a hilariously funny version of the above? This guy just killed it with his script spoof - here

6.04.2012

DAENERYS IS BURNING

Good finale for the Season 2 closer of Game of  Thrones. After several episodes stuffing plot points into themselves like one of those dishes that stuffs a quail inside a chicken inside a duck inside a goose - the finale unfolded cleanly and we got some quality time with good characters. 


The Big Girl killed some scumbags and showed Jaime Lannister that he might be in for quite a fight if she ever goes after him one-on-one. Eery face-changer guy finally showed his true 2nd face. The blue-eyed undead are on the march, Winterfell is burnt to the ground and in a hilarious bit the buffoon Theon Greyjoy is clobbered by an Iron-born after giving a rousing speech. Poor Tyrion gets no hero's parade, no thanks even for saving Kings Landing - instead he wakes up with his large face-gash to find he's been abandoned and shunted aside. Only Lord Varys remains true (as a self-serving power-player can), as well as his lover, but Varys says he must distance himself for the time-being. 


The main takeaway for a fan who has not read the books is that the people of these novels are completely unsentimental and rather ruthless in their approach to life.  Everyone seems to be scheming about their next move and what they have to give up to survive or get power. The broad sweep of the story is still a bit overwhelming with so many characters and conflicts to follow, but it is entertaining to be sure. Our Dragon Lady Daenerys finally got some answers in the Warlock Tower (visions of possible futures and alternate realities - including a touching scene with her dead king Kahl Drogo stuck in some kind of purgatory) and she burned at least one copy of the Warlock by coaxing her little reptile children to belch fire. Over 9 months until Season 3 - yikes ... how will it be possible not to read a bit about what is to come?