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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New James Bond Film Trailer - Skyfall

Terrible name, great looking film. All I need is the Bond theme music and I am ordering my tickets online.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Review (2012)

 Nolan delivers a fitting close to a great trilogy.  Although the storytelling is a little clunky at times, mainly due the scope of the film, it makes up for it with some incredible moments, interesting characters and a satisfying resolution.

With “The Dark Knight Rises” Christopher Nolan attempts to do with The Dark Knight series what no other superhero film series has been able to accomplish, the superhero trifecta - three well received superhero films in a row.  Tim Burton's “Batman” series and Richard Donner's “Superman” films were the closest with 2 quality films to start the respective series, only to have a complete drop off in quality with the third entries (followed by even worse 4th entries - yuck!)  What Nolan had one advantage going into this, his film series is a trilogy, not an open-ended series - it had a beginning, middle and an ending.  Did this advantage allow him to overcome the mistakes made by so many before him?

The continuing story of Bruce Wayne/Batman picks up about eight years after he takes the blame for the murders committed by Harvey Dent.  The deceased Dent is honored by the creation of the Dent Act (a Patriot Act type law) a piece of legislation that gives the authorities increased powers to help wipe out organized crime on the streets of Gotham. Batman is now a fugitive of the law.  Bruce Wayne has become a recluse - his absence stirs rumors of everything from his death to his disfigurement.  Things have changed in Gotham - since the Dent Act has cleaned up the streets of Gotham, the need for the Dark Knight is no longer there - that is until a hulk of a man wearing a face mask named Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives, violently turning the balance of power on its head.  Combine Bane's arrival with that of a beautiful cat burglar, Selina Ward aka Catwoman (Ann Hathaway) caught breaking into Wayne manor to steal Bruce's fingerprints and it is enough to bring the Bat out of self-imposed retirement.

From that point onward the story grows immensely, venturing into an areas not typically explored in a superhero films - class war, anarchy and economic inequality.  These themes have been brushed upon in superhero films before, just not grounded in the modern world realism as seen here.  It gets grim, cynical and violent using some of the negative attitudes toward the most recent economic downturn and horrific terrorist attacks as the tools of the villains.  The climate is extremely grim throughout the film and may be a bit tough for people to swallow if they are expecting another "Avengers" film.  The tone Nolan sets is what differentiates his Batman trilogy from the other comic book heroes.  The fact that this film is based more in reality that takes away the element of escapism found in most superhero films; instead of being a fun experience it is often the opposite, a reminder of all the pain, suffering and corruption out there.

Nolan took on a huge undertaking with the massive scale of story - it is ambitious to say the least, but ambition is also the film's Achilles's heel.  Hampered by multiple new character and plot lines the focus in not on just telling the story, there also needs to be a certain amount of exposition to set them all up.  This is where the clunkiness occurs - not all character are given enough screen time establish effectively, some are on screen too often, while others are off screen for prolonged periods of time.  This is not to say I did not like what I saw on screen, I did - I could follow and was engaged in the story lines, but more time would have helped.  Weighing in at an already whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes I am sure length was a concern.  My guess is the film would have been longer and some of the scenes that would help to smooth out the storytelling became sacrifices to the cutting room.  I have heard complaints about the film being bloated - I don't see it.  If you have somewhere to be before seeing a movie, don't see a 165 minute movie.  Frankly, the film could have easily been expanded into two 2-hour feature films allowing for some of the key elements to get the attention needed to smooth out the rough patches.

Nolan took a chance by not telling a light weight story that would be easy to digest, aimed at the fulfilling the dreams of the fan boys.  Instead of a powder puff story he continued with the heavier, much more serious approach, properly finishing the story of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego.  If this was just another villain comes to town, Batman beats villain, crowds cheer story - the movie would have failed, the film series would have failed.  “The Avengers” could pull it off because it is a different type of film - as discussed in my review it is fast food, Batman is not.  Nolan’s Dark Knight series is a more complex meal that needs proper time to be properly prepared, consumed and digested.  Both film styles have their own positive qualities, but it is not fair to compare them against each other or expect either one deliver the same product - they are different styles of cuisine.

The biggest risk taken with the film is the lack of screen time Batman actually has during the first half of it; he does a lot of sitting on the sidelines as the story unfolds.  It is not like his story was put on hold, his story continues as we wait for him to don the bat costume again.  This is needed to complete the story of both BW and Batman-  they were broken men, both physically and in spirit. If Batman is not shown broken and in need of healing then how can he rise? This was a calculated decision; it was by not accident that Batman wasn't present during much of the first half.  Nolan did not watch the finished film and say, "oops, we forgot to add the Dark Knight."  Just because it is not the most appealing choice it does not mean it was not the right one for the series.  If you want to do something right you often have to forgo the easiest solution.  The first half of the film allows the second to be as satisfying as it is.  The emotional arc of Bruce Wayne throughout the trilogy has properly completed.

There were a few things that I did not care for: the foreshadowing was a little too obvious and the flashbacks were too plentiful and at times corny - perhaps Nolan underestimates his audience or they were added to make it easier for those that did not see the first two films to follow.  Either way, they were kind of on the amateur side for such a master storyteller.  Bane's dialogue goes from a combination of Sean Connery and the masked killer form Scream to a European guy working at the drive-thru speaker at McDonalds.  I would guess I understood 94% of everything he was saying, but the audience should understand 100% he is the main villain.  There was actually one exchange (several lines in length) that I did not understand a word, I felt disoriented - I missed the first word and the rest were a dizzying attack of grunts and mumbles.  Seriously, subtitles would have helped.  To make matters worse Hans Zimmer's score was an overpowering barrage of drums - it has grown on me, but it certainly could have been toned down.  Do not expect any awards for the sound team this year.  Finally, the new Bat copter/plane/flying vehicle was a lemon - I felt the same way with the vehicle in the Burton series, each film was a new vehicle - this isn't James Bond.  Not only was it unnecessary, it kind of removed me from that mild level of suspension of disbelief that so nicely fit these films.  If this contraption was absolutely necessary then it should have been restricted to one or two scenes.  I am not a car guy, but I love the Batmobile and wanted to see it in use.  I guess they did not get the memo.

The returning cast from previous entries perform well here.  Gary Oldman is restricted, yet solid.  Morgan Freeman continues to provide that standard Morgan Freeman charm.  But, it is Michael Caine that delivers the best performance, adding true heart and emotion to the film.  I actually got a little choked up and based on the sounds of some of the people around me I was not alone.  Geeks.

The new additions fare well even if no one comes close to a Heath Ledger level performance.  Ann Hathaway's character fits nicely into the series.  Surprisingly, other than costume there are no cat references - she is never referenced to as Catwoman, she does not deliver her lines with a purr, and the puns, if any, were minimal.  She does a great job adding a little levity to a very heavy film - more of her would have been welcome.  Another fine addition to the cast is Joseph Gordon Levitt - a young actor that has forced audiences to take note of him since he cut his hair and transitioned from "Third Rock from the Sun" to feature films.  He plays a detective that is essentially is Batman's civilian sidekick - working the case as the Dark Knight returns to fighting form.  Tom Hardy's Bane, as discussed, has a little bit of a communications issue but still comes across as a powerful, intelligent character opposed to the previous incarnation that was simply a pile of muscles.  Unfortunately hiding a talented actor such as Hardy is a disservice to himself and the film - maybe he should have played The Riddler, The Penguin... anybody but Mr. Freeze (can't handle that again.)  The most poorly used addition was Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, as a philanthropist that also ends up in what seems to be a serious relationship with Bruce Wayne.  The sudden relationship was not fleshed out enough and because of that it lacks a natural feel to it  - one day they are talking, the next they are inseparable - it felt forced.  I have to believe there was more for her to do here - perhaps additional scenes with her were cut for time.  In my not so humble opinion, they easily could have removed her from the story completely - it would not have been tough and could have helped resolve some of the storytelling issues.

So, did Nolan pull off the superhero film trifecta?  The answer is yes.  Is this the perfect film we all wanted it to be?  The answer to that is no, but it is close.  Where The Dark Knight was a well-oiled machine, focused and tight, TDKR was more ambitious, with a massive scope.  Overall its delivery did get a little clunky at times, but it easily overcame that and proved to be one hell of a ride - a satisfying end to a terrific series.  If you enjoyed the first two films and disagree with my assessment I would love to hear why.  Post your thoughts in the comment section - I can handle it. 

8.5 out of 10

Make sure you check out the other Batman reviews:
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight

Friday, July 20, 2012

We’ve Seen This Movie Before (by Roger Ebert for the NYT)

JAMES HOLMES, who opened fire before the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” could not have seen the movie. Like many whose misery is reflected in violence, he may simply have been drawn to a highly publicized event with a big crowd. In cynical terms, he was seeking a publicity tie-in. He was like one of those goofballs waving in the background when a TV reporter does a stand-up at a big story.

James Holmes must also have been insane, and his inner terror expressed itself, as it often does these days, in a link between pop culture and firearms. There was nothing bigger happening in his world right now than the new Batman movie, and in preparation for this day, or another like it, he was purchasing firearms and booby-trapping his apartment. When he was arrested after the shootings, he made no attempt at resistance. His mission was accomplished. 

I’m not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence. I think the link is between the violence and the publicity. Those like James Holmes, who feel the need to arm themselves, may also feel a deep, inchoate insecurity and a need for validation. Whenever a tragedy like this takes place, it is assigned catchphrases and theme music, and the same fragmentary TV footage of the shooter is cycled again and again. Somewhere in the night, among those watching, will be another angry, aggrieved loner who is uncoiling toward action. The cinematic prototype is Travis Bickle of “Taxi Driver.” I don’t know if James Holmes cared deeply about Batman. I suspect he cared deeply about seeing himself on the news.
Should this young man -- whose nature was apparently so obvious to his mother that, when a ABC News reporter called, she said “You have the right person” -- have been able to buy guns, ammunition and explosives? The gun lobby will say yes. And the endless gun control debate will begin again, and the lobbyists of the National Rifle Association will go to work, and the op-ed thinkers will have their usual thoughts, and the right wing will issue alarms, and nothing will change. And there will be another mass murder. 

That James Holmes is insane, few may doubt. Our gun laws are also insane, but many refuse to make the connection. The United States is one of few developed nations that accepts the notion of firearms in public hands. In theory, the citizenry needs to defend itself. Not a single person at the Aurora, Colo., theater shot back, but the theory will still be defended. 

I was sitting in a Chicago bar one night with my friend McHugh when a guy from down the street came in and let us see that he was packing heat. 

“Why do you need to carry a gun?” McHugh asked him. 
“I live in a dangerous neighborhood.”
“It would be safer if you moved.” 

This would be an excellent time for our political parties to join together in calling for restrictions on the sale and possession of deadly weapons. That is unlikely, because the issue has become so closely linked to paranoid fantasies about a federal takeover of personal liberties that many politicians feel they cannot afford to advocate gun control. 

Immediately after a shooting last month in the food court of the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto, a young woman named Jessica Ghawi posted a blog entry. Three minutes before a gunman opened fire, she had been seated at the exact place he fired from. 

“I was shown how fragile life was,” she wrote. “I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.” 

This same woman was one of the fatalities at the midnight screening in Aurora. The circle of madness is closing. 

Roger Ebert is the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of “Life Itself: A Memoir.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008) Retro-Review

My jaw dropped. My jaw LITERALLY dropped. There is one moment in this film that is so powerful I reacted to in a way that I do not think I ever had before – a reaction of jaw dropping astonishment. This moment assured that The Dark Knight would be on my list of best films of the year and was is on my short list to possibly be the best super hero movie I have ever seen. Of course I will not reveal what or when this moment takes place, but you should most certainly know it when you see it.  It is in that moment that Christopher Nolan makes most of the superhero movies of the past 3 decades look just plain silly.

Superhero movies have always been plagued by men in tights, campy dialogue, hokey poorly developed villains but most of all by formulaic cookie-cutter screenplays that failed establish a unique experience for the viewer.  Hollywood's shortsightedness has prevented the genre to mature - they were focused on producing easy to consume cash grabs that did not take chances - same old stories, different hero.  Christopher Nolan has finally broken the old superhero mold.  He has combined elements of the superhero alternate reality and real as we know it, in a way that will attract more than just the sword wielding, comic book collecting geeks traditionally targeted; instead the scope of the target audience is much larger - film lovers.  Nolan's Batman plays is more than a superhero story, it is also a great crime film.

The Burton Batman franchise, after a great start, lost some momentum during the third and fourth films...okay, that would be a HUGE understatement - the franchise came to dead screeching halt.  Joel Schumacher (look for him on under the job description: hack) did made just about every wrong move in what seemed like a hit on our beloved hero (seriously, bat nipples and Alicia Silverstone!?!?)  Nolan not only resuscitated the character from the death bed, he breathed new life into the entire genre.  A great story is there (always a good start,)  the characters are there and the acting came along for the ride too.

I will not give too much away about the plot other than by saying that things are normal as can be in Gotham, corruption rules the day- that is until The Joker (Heath Ledger) shows his scarred face. Upon his arrival the balance of power is certainly altered, no one knows how to deal with the new threat, neither the good guys nor the bad. With a few powerful moves The Joker transitions from the new guy on the block to the one calling the shots.  Unlike many villains, this one is willing to kill with the simplest of ease.  And kill he does.  His total disregard for human life is what makes him one of the scariest on-screen villains in awhile.  The great performance of Ledger, combined with the haunting score will send more chills down your spine than all of those crappy Saw movies.  This a calculated film – the characters seem real, the plot is that of a classic crime thriller not a thin-plotted comic book transplant - the music, the lighting, the direction all are used to tell a good story, not just rake in bags full of cash.

Most the talk about the film is Heath Ledger and his portrayal of the Joker.  I am not going to go off on this subject; the portrayal is incredible and should be rewarded with an Oscar nomination.  Every moment he was on screen I forgot Ledger and could only see the Joker.  It says a lot about the performance since I came in unwilling to accept the passing of the torch from Jack Nicholson.  The rest of the cast does more than hold their own – Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Caine all make the most out of their time on screen. With all the exposition taken care of in the first film, this film gets to focus on relationships between characters, rather than just moving the plot.  The best additions are Arron Eckhart as the new DA, Harvey Dent and the Katie Holmes replacement for Rachel (Batman’s chick).  Gyllenhaal is a vast improvement in the acting department, but lacks the looks to make you believe Bruce Wayne would pass up his entourage of beauties for her.  She seems miscast, but acts her way out of it.

I can discuss this film for hours, but not without taking away from your viewing pleasure. If you have not seen this and are a Batman fan you should have run out to see this already – (shame on you), if you are not a fan of the Bat, but do like crime thrillers then this may also be up your alley if you can ignore the bat costume and gadgets. There may be plenty of trash in theaters now that easier to consume, none that will entertain or surprise you as much as The Dark Knight.

9 stars out of 10

(originally published  8/19/2008)

Check out the other Batman reviews:
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight Rises 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hilarious! Pee-Wee Herman Narrates "The Dark Knight Rises" Trailer

See it now and share the link with your bat-loving friends.

Christian Bale Freak Out (Explicit)

In honor of the opening of The Dark Knight Rises I am going to give you treat, Christian Bale's profanity filled rant on the set of that terrible Terminator film. If you have heard this already, then "GOOD FOR YOU!" Enjoy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Batman Begins (2005) Retro-Review

Batman is back!  No, this is not a corny, bat-nippled, neon-colored, villain-fighting, pun spewing, joke of a rendition of Batman as played on screen by George Clooney - this is a REAL Batman.  Christopher Nolan (director of Memento – a MUST SEE film) takes Batman back to his dark roots that were completely abandoned during the Schumacher years (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin.)  The variation we find here is a darker, much more troubled version than has ever been portrayed on screen before.  The overall tone of this film is closer to that of the Tim Burton directed films (Batman & Batman Returns) but even that is not all that accurate.  This film re-creates Batman, essentially beginning the rejuvenation of a what seemed to be a dead franchise. The damage done with “Batman and Robin” looked irreversible, but with the fine work of Nolan and company it looks like the Bat truly is back.  Instead of another lazy sequel they give us a re-imagining of the hero the villains and Gotham itself.

The story revolves around a billionaire’s son, Bruce Wayne, who blames himself and his fear for the death of his parents. The guilt eats away at him forcing him to go on a quest to find a way to overcome his fear and anger, turning it into a weapon against today’s evils. When the tortured soul returns he is not only Bruce Wayne he is Batman an masked man that hides in the shadows to hunt down those who do wrong.  Batman go up against all the different faces of evil in order to save Gotham - not just from your typical super villain but also from the corruption that has sunken deep into its core to rot the once great city.

The magic of the film is seeing what really makes Bruce Wayne, Batman.  The version of Bruce Wayne/Batman is a much deeper, more fleshed out version than we have seen in the past.  We learn his motivation for fighting crime, why he chooses to be a bat-man, how he learned to fight and much more.  Best of all his the origin of his amazing gadgetry is explained and done so in a way that, like the rest of the film, feels like something that is based closer to reality and than out of a comic book or science fiction movie.  That level of realism helps to deliver a much more accessible super hero. The first half of the film is spent fleshing out the nuances of a character that were often brushed over or ignored in full. Some of the back story reveals are a true delight to learn. Batman becomes more of a person and less of a caricature.

Christian Bale’s Batman is right up there with Michael Keaton. From an acting standpoint, Bale may be a better actor, but Keaton’s Batman was more likable. The rest of the cast does quite a nice job too. Gary Oldman is his standard great self.  Michael Caine is a better Alfred than expected.  Morgan Freeman delivers a typical Morgan Freeman character.  Katie Holmes looks good and does not detract from the efforts of others (a rave review for her.)  Liam Neison plays a great mentor to Batman - in a nasty Qui-Gon fashion.  Cillian Murphy is a nicely understated villain as the Scarecrow.  A nice ensemble cast without a weak link.

The movie is not perfect, few are. One is the qualities that helps re-create this universe also constrain it - the realism.  The style of the Burton-esque Gotham is gone.  The new Gotham looks more like a run down future version of New York or Chicago than the highly stylized visions found in the Burton flicks.  The buildings are not massive Gothic skyscrapers; instead they are structures that could fit in a modern day city.   I loved the look and feel of the Burton Gotham this new one is nothing special.  I understand the reasons behind the decision, but I would have liked to see it a little bit more stylized version. Where the old Gotham made you want to see more of it, this version feels like a place you have seen many times before, just dirtier. 

This lean toward realism is not only found in the design of  the city itself, but also throughout the characters and plot elements. Even the villains are more realistic. Taking a page out of the Spider-man movies’ book, the villains in this film are people that use technology and science to wreck terror, not creatures or freaks as seen in previous Batman films.  I guess I will just have to live with the choices and take it for what it is.... not bad in the least, just not what I was anticipating.

My main complaint was the score. Where’s the Danny Elfman Batman theme?   The new score is not nearly as strong.  Quite disappointing.  I am sure it will grow on me, but there only be one Batman theme for me.  The final issue with the movie is that the action sequences are also cut to fast and are tough to make out at time. This seems to be a pattern with films lately.  It may be used to cover the size of the lead actors or to make the scene more exciting, but it is not working. Slow down the editing a bit and let me enjoy.

As the story progressed the new traits of this new Batman grew on me.  Sure, it was an extremely new approach than the previous entries we have seen but the creative differences allowed to provide a thrilling film that remained true to the Batman legacy.  Nolan not only kept the franchise's heart beating, he performed a transplant - a new, healthier heart that should beat strong for films to come.  By the end of the film you'll find that same excitement you felt may have experienced while leaving the theater after the original 1988 Batman film.  Any fear I had that I would not embrace the new Batman had subsided, especially after the creative final scene that sets up the inevitable ‘Batman Continues” (hopefully it will have a better title) with one of the best teasers in the history of film.

8 out of 10

Originally posted on June 19th 2005

Check out the other Batman reviews:
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rock of Ages - Review (2012)

What can you say about Rock of Ages that the trailer does not already say?  It is a star-studded, cliche-ridden, cheesy attempt to integrate old hair band songs into a story you have seen many times before.
I have heard over and over again, "You have to see the play 'Rock of Ages,' you'd love it." Those who recommended the play were probably correct by doing so being that I was the guy that cried when my brother vandalized my Twisted Sister posters (I was a kid then, it did not happen recently,) the same guy that had an emotional connection spark up when I was front row at a Journey cover band concert (OK, this happened more recently, but it was totally platonic.)  The stage production looked to have the perfect chemistry for a live audience, the energy and excitement of the theater combined with some of the classic, over-the-top songs of the big hair era of rock music that would be fun to sing along to.   Now, throw in Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and celluloid and suddenly the chemistry changes from a bang to a fizzle - the once perfectly aligned pieces fit now fit as well Meatloaf in size 30 leather pants.  A lesson Hollywood can't seem to learn is that what works on stage is not guaranteed to work on film and vice versa.

Lucky for them is there is no film here - what we get is an extended episode of Glee with rock music and sans Jane Lynch.  There is not an interesting character or plot line, everything is directed toward making sure all the licensed music gets it fair share of screen time - everything else is just a delivery system.  In this wonderful place, even dialogue is of little use - it's sole purpose to setup the next song to be crow-barred into the "story."  Don't worry, I am not oblivious, I completely understand that this film is all about delivering those familiar old rock songs to the masses...point taken.  But, did it have to be done in such an obvious way?  Did they write this script in over a weekend while downing Natty Light?  Oh yeah, and did the renditions of the songs need to be this terrible?  They come at you from every direction and from everybody, including a poorly wigged (and cast) Alec Baldwin (his talk-singing is sad to see from multiple-Emmy winning actor.)

One thing that would have helped would have been a cameo by someone with some real pipes.  Hhmmm, let me see.  I'll just pick a name out off the top of my head... maybe Dee Snider!?!    I would assume the option was there, not many of the 80's/90's rock singers have much to do besides "Celebrity Apprentice."  My guess why there was a lack of cameos had to do with the fact that if those guys sang just one note sung they would reveal the cast to be the amateur singers they are.  So, the songs didn't work. Well, we always have the great story...that just happened to be so predictable they should have just ended it with a "and they lived happily ever after."  They usually reserve predictable crap like this for very special episodes of "Saved by the Bell"  - no kidding you could assemble the majority of the storyline together from a series of adventures of Zach Morris and company.

As for the acting, Tom Cruise (continuing his never-ending quest for re-acceptance) does little more than play dress up.  Sure, he sings well enough, but portraying someone that is this out of character for him just seems desperate right about now.  Honestly I think it would have a better move to fill the role with someone with less of an on screen familiarity - Steve Buscemi would have been fun (just an idea.)  The other male lead was anything but interesting, so little so I am not going to even take the time to find out his name - every time he sang or spoke I checked out, I am sure we will not be hearing from him again.  Other male lead. sorry, you stink.  Catherine Zeta Jones in a completely unnecessary storyline, proves again that it is time for her to hang it up.  And, of course, I already mentioned The mean, Alec Baldwin.  The only cast member who makes it out fairly unscathed is Julianne Hough.   She fits well into her role of the small town girl looking for fame to the point that easily could have been as a continuation of her character from "Footloose" - maybe no one told her they finished that film and let her just go with it.

What can you say about Rock of Ages that the trailer does not already say? It is a star-studded, cliche-ridden, cheesy attempt to integrate old hair band songs into a story you have seen many times before.  I wanted nothing but a good time from this film.  I wanted to rock.  Even as the credits rolled I kept thinking, don't stop believing.  I should have.  In the end I wanted to write a letter to studio telling them, we're not going to take it, but I... ( I MUST STOP!)  If that last blast of poorly infused song titles had you wanting to poke your eyes out, then I would avoid this film.  The song placement is not as subtle.  Note to the producers that thought this would be tremendous marketing for the stage version of RoA:  This film has killed any chances of me spending $200 for tickets to the stage production - I just can't do it.  I doubt I am the only one saying this as well.  The negative buzz surrounding this film will do far more damage than good.  I guess you don't know what you've got until its gone.  4 stars out of 10.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Prometheus Review (2012)

All major spoilers are found after the review simply highlight them blank section after the review to read.  Feel free to discuss the film and any spoilers in the comments section - just be sure to put the word SPOILER in caps before you reveal anything.

This film does contain plenty of scares, gross-outs and chills, but it also proposes many questions, forcing you to engage your brain, rather than turn it off.  Sure, it is not flawless - few films are - it is a good discussion piece and an entertaining one at that.

A movie trailer can be a film's best friend or its worst enemy.  A successful trailer can attract an audience that would never have seen the film in the first place, leaving them satisfied.  An unsuccessful movie trailer can mislead audiences as to what genre the film belongs in, unbeknownst to the audience reveal spoilers that would have been enjoyable had they not been seen already or most often it oversells a mediocre film, raising expectations to an a attainable level.

How many times have you heard someone say, "all the funny/scary parts were in the trailer" or "the trailer showed the whole film?"  Well thankfully, neither are the case here.  The Prometheus trailer came out of nowhere; shrouded in mystery, had amazing sets, incredible levels of tension, a little known cast and a name that no one besides those with a firm grasp on Greek mythology had heard of.  It was awesome.  It quickly becoming a must see trailer of the upcoming summer season.  (You can watch it here if you dare.)

Everything seemed to set this up to be a success story of the summer.  Then something went wrong, people were leaving the theater disappointed with complaints like: questions weren't answered, it was too confusing, it was just another one of those movies.  In the case of Prometheus it was both benefactor and victim of its own killer trailer.  

As the credits started rolling I had a similar response... but then something happened, I soon found I could not stop thinking about what I had just seen.  I contemplated the ending as I walked to up the escalator, then some more as I walked across the lobby.  I forgot about it for a little while as I was being screamed at by a lady accused me of hitting her with the theater exit door (who in their right mind stands behind a door?!?)  Not long later I continued thinking about it while I ordered my Mexican food.   The deep thought resumed later that evening as the said Mexican food gave me terrible stomach pain (and then some.)

My gut reaction was to be letdown, but the fact that is resonated with me so long proved the film and trailer's effectiveness to sell the film correctly.  This was a thought-provoking film, not a thought ending film - which is why I really enjoyed it.  The film proposes many questions, from the scientific to the theological.  Sure some of those questions were left unanswered, but look what happens when the questions are answered, the conversation switches from what the film may have been saying to you saying how much the film sucked (i.e. The Matrix sequels and the Star Wars prequels.) 

In an attempt to not spoil I will lightly touch upon the film's more thought-provoking aspects at the end (you have to highlight it to to read it.)  Instead I will cover several of the other admirable elements to the film, from the acting to the beautiful and often haunting sets, that deserve some attention.  Overall the film is quite tense, we follow a team of space explorers that have followed a map they feel was left for them to hopefully meet our creators.  We do not know where they are going or what to expect when they arrive.  Each and every corner provides another series of questions and some increasingly creepy surroundings.  Which leads me to the visuals, the film creates stunning environments, some haunting, some beautiful.  I saw it in 3D (other than a few scenes this format does not add much) and was impressed with how quickly you forget you are watching studio sets and believe these environments and technology exist.

The cast is well lead by the scientist, Elizabeth, (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Noomi Rapace) and her android co-explorer, David, (Michael Fassbender) as a wonderfully portrayed android - not quite human, not quite robot.  Both provide fine performances on opposite sides of the exploration - one dedicated to the finding the answers of man's origin and the other seemingly in a mission of his own.  Fassbender's performance is the standout of the film.  Unfortunately, Charlize Theron's is not - she is given little to do other than bark out orders and stare at video monitors... an unrewarding role.

This film has much more to say than a trailer can contain.  It is not a mood piece as so many films in the same genre are - by that I mean, we are not supposed to be satisfied with just knowing we are going to be scared, questions arises, twists occur and you do get plenty of seat squirming, gut twisting scares and gross out moments.  I recommend you see it.  8 out of 10

For those of you that have seen it, here are a couple discussion points (SPOILERS) highlight below to read.  You have been warned.

If you have seen this film you should realize one thing for sure it is not your father's Alien movie. Yes, for those that missed it or are unfamiliar with the film series, this is a quasi-sequel that creates back story for a franchise that focused on a more visceral than cerebral response.  This film does contain plenty of scares, gross-outs and chills, but it also propose the much references questions noted above, forcing you to engage your brain, rather than turn it off.  Sure, it is not flawless - few films are - it is a good discussion piece and an entertaining one at that.

Some of the questions we are left to deal with are directly related to the world of the film, while others transcend beyond the film itself.  

Some of the questions left open by the film:
Why did the engineers turn on humanity?
Is the clue of 2000 years a reference to the time of Christ?
Why did they create man in the first place?

There are plenty more, feel free to discuss them - these are just a few that stood out to me.  The last one is the most perplexing, not just in the realm of this film, but also in life.  

A great exchange occurs between one of the explorers and David the android: 

David:  Why we do you think your people made me?
Rick:    They made you because they could.
David:   Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to hear the same thing from your creator?

These are the types of questions the film asks?  The answer you choose to believe may come from inside you, your religious beliefs or from science.  Which is correct?  Is there a correct answer?  

Another question that popped into my head that will not go away is just because (if you believe) our creator/engineer has made us, are we naive to believe that there needs to be an unconditional love for us?  Can/will our creator someday decide to wipe us out - through natural disaster, by putting power in our hands for a self-inflicted destruction or like in this film and the less successful Legion, will the engineers return to wipe us out by their own hand?  

It may be unfortunate that this film is so connected to the Alien series.  It really in no way needs it, other than to possibly obtain the financing needed to produce it.  Otherwise the connection only creates a certain level of expectation for Alien-esque type action/effects that are great, but not necessary to allow this to succeed.  If the inevitable Alien standards were not going to make their required appearances the film may have been free to venture even further.  I am sure for Alien fanatics this additional back story is a welcome treat, for those not familiar with the series some scenes will provide a different response.