Ice Age 4 – Review

Ice Age 4 – Continental Drift (2012) 

Directed by Steve MartinoMike Thurmeier. Starring Ray RomanoAziz AnsariJoy BeharPeter DinklageAubrey GrahamQueen LatifahDenis LearyJohn LeguizamoJennifer LopezHeather MorrisSeann William Scott.

On its fourth outing the saga begins to feel a little bit tired, the formula is wearing slightly thin and as the subtlety and freshness are obviously long gone, it all begins to merge into one.

There is nothing really wrong  with Continental Drift, but for the first time I felt slightly too old for this type of fare and I almost wished I had a child with me so that I could enjoy the film a lot more than I really did.

The film starts off with the wrong foot straight away, introducing us to so many different characters that at some point I thought I was going to get lost. It’s obviously trying to pull together all the threads from the various earlier episodes, but by doing that not only it delays the actual story, but also it makes it feel clunky, chaotic, crowded and a bit confusing, and given its target audience that is inexcusable (you may argue that the target audience probably watch the previous parts almost daily on DVD and they are not lost at all…).

However once the plot gets going, it all runs quite smoothly, without too many surprises but also without anything offensive or boring.

This is old-style storytelling for kids and there is nothing wrong with that. The baddie is vicious enough, the hero is brave, the music is fitting for the adventure it’s depicting, and just in case you get bored, you can always count on the interludes with Scrat (though, I must say, even those felt slightly re-hashed from the past).

The animation has advanced a bit from the previous instalments, but it’s in the details more than the actual design and film-making. And while the 3D, as in most animated films, works rather well,in the end  it’s just as un-memorable and unimaginative as the rest of the ride.

But I shouldn’t really criticise it: I guess this is what people want from an Ice Age movie: the familiarity, the cosy feeling that comes being together with some old friends, the easy laughs (fewer out-loud ones I must say), the cute animals and at the end of the day even if you feel you’ve seen it all before, your kids will probably love it.

6/10

Cosmopolis – Review

Cosmopolis (2012) 

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Robert PattinsonJuliette BinocheSarah GadonMathieu AmalricPaul GiamattiSamantha Morton.

How can anyone enjoy such a self-indulgent pile of unintelligible garbage is really beyond me. A few years ago I used to think Cronenberg was one of the most inventive directors around in America: his early films, though not very accessible in a mainstream sense, have always been at least incredibly imaginative and created some images of nightmares of an almost visceral quality, which would stick in our minds for years and years to come: whether it’s an exploding head (Scanners) or a TV screen literarily eating your head (Videodrome), or piece of ears and fingernails falling off Jeff Goldblum  decomposing body  (The Fly). Even the non-completely successful  Naked Lunch or eXistanZ despite their absurdity, were intriguing enough to keep you glued to the chair and had ideas and inventiveness to fill not just one but two films. And then Crash, of course, I film I really hated  and yet I cannot deny its power.

More recently David Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his visceral style for one which is more cerebral… and his nightmarish images have been replaced by tedious logorroic dialogue and by doing that he’s really lost me… It was only a few months ago that his spectacularly dull A Dangerous Method was released. A film that not only managed to bore the hell out of my me, but which also made Michael Fassbender look quite a banal actor: quite an achievement indeed. But if you thought A Dangerous Method was slow, talky and un-cinemtic, Cosmopolis will go you even further and take you to unexplored corners of boredom and self-indulgness, like few films have done before! How could Philip French from the Observer have called it “riveting cinema” is a real a mystery… Are you kidding me?

I would be willing to bet that if the film had been made by a different unknown director, (and not starred Pattinson) hardly anyone would have even noticed it, let alone raved about it as some people are doing.

There are possibly one of two interesting ideas about the film’s concept, which all come from the novel by Don DeLillo, from which the film was adapted: the journey of a multi-bilionarie crossing New York inside a limousine to have a haircut (yes, that it is).

Whether you read Cosmopolis as a premonition for the economic crash or simply as the descent of a man into bankrupcy, there is no denying that this film is one of those clear examples of an adaptation that should have really stayed on the written page of a book. Because once the cumbersome dialogue gets transposed onto the screen, it really begins to show how proposterous and self-indulgent it all is. And unfortunately that’s all the film has to offer: dialogue dialogue, dialogue… and more dialogue. I have nothing against films built around dialogue and speeches (12 angry men is a masterpiece and that takes place inside a room where people talk at each other!). The problem here is that the dialogue in question is so full of itself , so obtuse, so preposterous, so un-real, so arty, and just so uninteresting, that after a while it really starts to go through you, as opposed to you. While watching this film I literarily found myself wondering “What is it they’re actually saying to each other?!”.

Beyond the dialogue, there’s very little else to admire in this film. The cocoon-like atmosphere inside the limousine is not supposed to be real, but it’s jarring at the best, it’s distracting and after about 5 minutes it becomes just tedious. The multitude of characters that come in and out of the journey, all seem to live in some sort of limbo, and despite their obvious differences, all talk with the same monotone voice those uninteresting lines of dialogue. So much so that it’s actually impossible to tell whether anyone is good in this film. I’m sure they are, because they’re all great actors… Sadly, their skills is totally wasted here. Lots of people asked me: “How is Robert Pattinson? Is he good?”. Well you know what? I have no idea? Mainly because that part is playing is so dull, so unreal, so uninteresting, so un-engaging that after a while not even the charm of Twilight-icon is enough to carry you through.

I’m all in favour of film directors trying new things, experimenting with cinema, trying to follow their personal paths, but when it comes to pointless crap like this, they should really spare us from joining their egocentric selfish trip!

This is an insult to all those Pattison fans out there and a deadly kick on the balls to all of us common mortals who happen to stumble across it. They should really pay us to watch this kind of stuff and it should not be the other way round… (actually I might ask Philip French to pay my ticket!).

Stay well away from it, for your own sake. Let’s not encourage Mr. Cronenberg to pull any of this shit on us again!

4/10

The Amazing Spider-Man – Review

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)  4.0_MG_SMALL

Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Andrew GarfieldEmma StoneRhys IfansDenis LearyMartin SheenSally FieldIrrfan Khan.

When the news of a reboot for the Raimi-Maguire Spiderman was first announced (and not just a reboot, but another ‘origin’ story, only 10 years after the first one), the obvious question on anybody’s lips was “Why on earth?”. What followed was a sort of anti-campaign from fans and critics alike: we all seemed to have decided we were going to hate this film, at all costs. When eventually first teaser was released in 2011, with all that badly CGIed, cartoony, extended point of view shot, looking more like a video-game than anything resembling a real film, we had already made up our minds that new incarnation of Spiderman was going to be not just redundant, but the final nail in the coffin for possibly the most beloved superhero of them all.

Well, I am happy to eat all my words back and say that I could not have been more wrong: The Amazing Spider-man is possibly the best Spiderman movie we’ve ever seen (I would have to watch the second one by Raimi again to really work out which one is now my favourite), but more importantly Andrew Garfield is the absolute ultimate Spiderman.

The line that everybody has been saying over and over again to describe this film is that it is a more realistic version of Spiderman (if you can call realistic the story of a man in spandex swinging through the skyscrapers of New York); what director Mark Webb has managed to infuse in it, is not the usual gritty and dark realism we’ve come to expect from those Nolan-directed Batman movies, but one steeped in real characters and real feelings, where people can be hurt both in a physical and emotional sense. And if you thought the Raimi-directed films were love stories first and foremost, and ain’t seen nothing yet!

The comparison with the previous incarnation of your friendly neighbour,  given the fact that we are meant to buy into another origin story so soon after the first one, it’s not just unavoidable but also quite fair. The ghost of Raimi is constantly behind the corner, but cleverly Mark Webb (who has obviously studied his source deeply and intensely) has manage to avoid most of the obvious comparison by giving the story a completely new spin (you will forgive me the pun), steering away from anything which could give us any sense of Déjà vu, making the story and the characters different enough at each opportunity, giving us a new baddie and a new girlfriend too.

While I was watching it, the only thing I felt I was missing from this version, was that sense of wonder and excitement that came with the first one, when Peter was swinging across NY for the first time. But having now seen it all, I am willing to admit that the film is keeping all that for the end and I was just waiting for it because of my knowledge of the 2002 version.

And of course on this one we get the added dimension given by the 3D technology, which seems to be have been created for this kind of films: I’m not your number 1 fan of 3D, but seeing this in an IMAX Theatre, I have have to tell you I found myself flinching from time to time and having a sense of vertigo that I am sure it would not have been so strong if it had been in 2D. So for once, kudos to the gimmick!

The final result is a film that manages to be just as fresh and exiting as if it was a completely new story, and it still manages to keep us guessing, thrilled and entertained throughout.

Somebody may argue that, clocking at around 136 minutes, it is all probably too long, but not me. Never once I felt anything was superfluous or in need of a trim. Andrew Garfield is so good and likeable in the main role and the chemistry with his co-star Emma Stone so sweet and believable (Yes, I know those 2 are together in real life too, and it shows) that I was just happy to be in their company. And even if Mark Webb took his time before the new Spidey costume made its first appearance, I would have been absolutely fine without seeing it for even longer. And if the film works as it does it’s because we do actually spend some proper time with these characters. It’s crucial that those scenes don’t feel rushed.

Rhys Ifans as the one-armed scientist/lizard, has enough screen-time  to flesh out his character into not just your stereotypical baddie, but a proper two-dimentional persona, making that extra twist at the end even more believable  (and giving Alfred Molina from Spiderman2 a run for his money for the top spot on Spidey’s best enemy list).

One the downside, James Horner‘s music, while one one hand was nicely judged on some of the more intimate and poignant moments, felt too saccharin and sweepy in what should have been much quieter scenes, but more crucially, it seemed to lack that Hero-theme which this type of films require. The kind of theme you can still hum by the time you leave the theatre, just like in Superman or Indiana Jones or even Harry Potter  (God, is John Williams really the only composer who’s able to do that?).

I’m also in two minds about the costume itself (I know, now we are on geeky-territory, but what do you expect from a moviegeek writing on his blog?!): though it look cool from far away and even on the poster, more often than not it seemed to fit awkwardly on Garfield’s body, creating strange creases and looking more like plastic than anything else…

The CGI work though has still a few cartoony moments is pretty good, and certainly the best we’ve seen so far in any Spiderman movie. I was pleased to see how little of that video-game-like point of view from that first trailer was actually left into the film. It must have been a case of listening to what the fans had to say and acting consequently.

Three editors are officially credited in the film and that’s always a sign of a film going that’s gone through several permutations. As someone very close to the art of editing I could see that despite those 136 minutes some of the transitions were a tiny bit too quick: the explanation of how Parker was able to make his web seems to be the sequence that suffered more than any other.

But I know, I am really picking needles here! It might not be the most original story you’ve ever seen (well, it not!), but it’s a thrilling romp and thoroughly enjoyable. And yet, despite all the action, the spinning, the spectacle (and the film has a lot of that!) what really shines at the heart of The Amazing Spiderman it’s the relationship between Garfield and Stone: it might be just marketing campaign to draw in the female audience as well as the the comic fans and the geeks, but it also gave the film such an emotional depth that I completely won me over. In fact in a way it’s the simplicity of the story itself that makes this such a pleasure to watch (I did enjoy the Avengers, but I still have trouble at explaining some of that story…).

If you add to all this, Andrew Garfield‘s spotless performance (in fact in a couple of moment really Oscar-worthy! If only Hollywood was brave enough to allow those types of performances in the Oscar race…) the perfectly balanced and well calibrated direction, and some wonderful supporting cast (Martin Sheen, I love you!) and some thrilling visuals, what you get is one my favourite superhero movie ever.

4 Stars (out of 5)

Killer Joe – Review

Killer Joe (2011) 

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Matthew McConaugheyEmile HirschJuno TempleThomas Haden ChurchGina Gershon.

I came to this film knowing very little about it and pretty much spoiler-free (which incidentally it’s always the best way films should be watched). However I was very aware of the director Friedkin‘s pedigree and having seen all those 5 stars flashing on the poster, I was building myself up for something really good, if not a masterpiece.

Unfortunately the film left me not just cold, but actually rather annoyed by how uneven and all-over the place it all was. In the end I just can’t help but be baffled by the critical response that it’s gaining.

It won’t take you long to realise what type of film you’ve stepped into and you’ll be able to tell straight away this is certainly not one for everybody and especially not one for the Matthew McConaughey‘s hard-core fans (who are there anyway?!): within the first 30 minutes of the screening I was in, I watched at least 4 different couples standing up and leaving the theatre.

The people depicted in the film certainly don’t belong to your typical American family. You know the ones I mean: the loyal husband kissing goodnight his lovely wife in her nightgown, always looking as if she’d just stepped out of a 2 hour beauty session and all together having a lovely meal around a dinner table… These are people who don’t really talk to each other, but rather  “at” each other: they shout, swear, lie. They’re happy to plot the murder their own mother, or their own ex-wife, willing to let their own daughter to have first time sex with a stranger in order to pay what they can’t afford to buy.

Friedkin doesn’t shy  away from showing you not just the worst side of everyone, and certainly there is no sugar-coating around any of the depiction of the characters. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, let me tell you that the first shot we get of  Gina Gershon, introducing her character as she opens the door to her son-in-law in the middle of the night, is an uncompromising view of her private parts. We get it straight away.

The film indeed did leave me with a quite uncomfortable feeling right form the word go, but not so much because of this approach, of the unlikable characters, or grim subject matter, but more because of the way the actual story was all being handled by the director. I couldn’t quite work out how I was supposed to take all this.

On one hand it was clear that Friedkin was talking about that “America” we rarely get to see in movies: shockingly ignorant, naive, violent and brutal. And while this doesn’t certainly make a pleasurable viewing experience,  I was very willing to go with it. I was constantly being reminded of films like The Killer Inside Me and yet there was something slightly off about Killer Joe. There was something fake about it: at times the characters seemed to be over-the-top caricatures of themselves: hard to like (of course), to care about and more crucially to believe in them.

It was at least 40 minutes into the film that the  audience I was with, started to laugh. Call me thick, but only then I began to realise that all this was actually to be taken as a satire.

Of course, the Killer Joe Cooper himself  is at times is filmed like a character from a comic book, and yet other times the camera lingers on him for very long takes, giving the film a much more grounded sense of reality.

But this is a long step away from the harsh realism Friedkin‘s previous masterpieces, like The French Connection and to a degree even The Exorcist, which despite the absurdity of its story, always treated its subject matter with so much respect  and honesty that it actually felt incredibly real (which is what made the film so powerful).

What we have in Killer Joe is a weird and uneven hyper-version of reality: and we as the audience are left to watch it from the outside, as you’d probably watch some kind of freak show.

But this isn’t another Natural Born Killers,  Killer Joe constantly shifts (especially in the first part) from real to almost parody and even slapstick (the joke with the jacket, however funny, seems to belong to a different film). Some people may argue that this is called “being subtle” and it’s what makes Killer Joe a masterpiece, I personally call it being “all over the place” and eventually found it very hard to digest.

Don’t take me wrong, I am not against satirising violence or ignorance: the Coen Brothers did it in Fargo with splendid results, but while in Fargo there was no fudging, just a perfect unity of tone right from the start, here I couldn’t help feeling that this was a film made by different people pulling in too many directions. All the subplots to do with Emile Hirsch‘s character (which is incidentally the most under-developed in the story) belong to one kind of film, while Thomas Haden Church (who once again plays an idiot) belongs to a different one, and of course Matthew McConaughey seems to have his own show all together.

It all comes together into a final act which is (intentionally) so over-the-top that it cannot leave you but completely baffled. The audience I was with went absolutely wild as if they were watching Airplane! or a Naked Gun movie, which leads me to think I am certainly in the minority of those people who didn’t find it all that funny. It’s a completely personal thing, I understand, but I find it quite fun to laugh at what’s essentially rape… Whatever the message underneath might be.

The episode with the Kentucky Fried Chicken leg will probably remain imprinted in your head for years and years to come, and it might even become as classic moment in cinema as the Royale with Cheese speech in Pulp Fiction; it’s certainly a non very subtle visualisation of the message the film is trying to carry, but to be honest at that point I had already lost my patience and when the ending finally came, as abruptly as it did, I was as happy to leave the theatre as I have rarely been. Was I offended? Not particularly. That would give the film more credit that I’d like to give it. I just thought it was all a bit pointless.

5.0/10

Friends with Kids – Review

Friends with Kids (2011) 

Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt. Starring: Jennifer WestfeldtAdam ScottJon HammKristen WiigMaya RudolphChris O’DowdMegan FoxEdward Burns

Making a good romantic comedy is not as easy as you might think. Comedies in general  have always been the overlooked genre when it comes to recognition or even awards: there is a certain (unfair) snobbery about them and an even greater misconception: because they talk about lighter subjects than, let’s say, the holocaust or war or cancer (just to mention the few obvious ones), we should not consider them as serious films…  Obviously calling them “rom-com” doesn’t quite helped their case either…

Isn’t it incredible that people still look at the 50s and 60s for the favourite comedies (Some like it Hot or the Apartment)? Or that we still quote those classic Woody Allen movies from the 70s? And when asked about the best rom-com (there you, I’m saying that too!) many will go back 23 years to that little jewel of a movie called When Harry Met Sally. It’s not surprising then to see writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt going back to exactly those types for her directorial debut.

Friends with Kids owes a lot the best Wood Allen (nowadays we must specify ‘best’, as there’s good Woody and dreadful Woody), both in its settings (New York, of course) and in the sharp and witty dialogue exchanges. But there are lots of echoes from When Harry Met Sally too, in fact it could almost be called “When Harry and Sally had a kid“. But while in Rob Reiner‘s classic the question was “Can a man and a woman be friends without sex getting in the way?”, in Friends with kids the question gets updated to “Can a man and a woman have a child, without getting stuck into the trappings of married life?”.

The actual premise and the excuse for the film is definitely rather out-fetched, gimmicky and to a degree it might feel a bit forced, but if you’re willing to go with it, what you’ll find beyond is an incredibly well-observed and smart piece of comedy about the painful truths of parenthood, about getting older, about responsibilities and friendship.

Westfeldt relies more on her characters and their dialogue to make us smile, or cry, or simply think, as opposed to resorting on cheap gags, or shots of cute babies (well OK, you get a couple of those too… But you get my point). This is an actors’ film, first and foremost and the cast is truly impeccable.

Adam Scott had already shown what he could do with the underrated (and rather harsh and depressing) HBO series Tell Me You Love Me: in this film he makes a potentially unlikable and tricky character, warm, sympathetic and charismatic.

However the film is also packed with other characters, which once again remind us of Harry and Sally’s types of friends: these are all people rooted into the real world, instantly recognizable to anyone struggling to find love before the clock runs out, anyone dating, anyone who’s been married for a long time, anyone who’s had kids or who’s about to have some. Like in the real world, there’s no black and white here: each relationship in the film feels true, people are not simply bad or good, they fall in and out of love, they come and go in and out of your life.

Everybody is perfect, even if they just appear in a few scenes. Jon Hamm shines, as he always does, and makes the most of his tiny role, even Edward Burns manages to be incredibly likeable and there’s even a surprisingly turn from Megan Fox, who shows she’s not just a pretty face… and body, and legs.. and… OK well, you get it.

It all comes to a head during an excruciating dinner sequence with no less than 8 people sitting around a table, which is not just beautifully directed and skilfully handled, but also it’s where the film really shows its cards and goes beyond the simple rom-com boundaries.

It’s interesting to see this film only a few weeks away from the clichè-riddled What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Both stories essentially tackle the same issues, but while WTEWURE goes for the easy Hollywood way (i.e. schmaltzy, A-list packed-cast, cheap jokes and so on), this one takes its time to work around its characters and aims at reaching a much more mature audience: it’s not just the situation that feels real but way the characters behaves in that particular situation.

Unfortunately there are some slips here and there: the excessive and unnecessary vulgarity of some of the dialogue does feel a bit forced and some jokes to do with kids seem to belong to a different kind of film (It’s “Three men and a Baby” territory, more than Annie Hall‘s)… And the ending might make some people cringe a little bit… However most of Friends with Kids is so honest and balanced that it feels wrong be harsh about it. In an age where good romantic comedies are so rare (they only come once every two years, if we are lucky!) we should treasure films like these, which at least try to be a little bit more intelligent and step away from the clichés of the genre.

7.5/10 

Check out my review of What To Expect When You’Re Expecting

Ill Manors – Review

Ill Manors (2012) 

Director: Ben Drew. Cast: Riz AhmedEd SkreinNatalie PressAnouska MondLee AllenMem Ferda.

This is a very hard film to review… And as a matter of fact it was a very hard film to watch too. More than once I found myself having to look away from the screen, just to be able to catch up with my breath and I had to remind myself “It’s only a movie… It’s only a movie”… Or is it? Sure one would want to give the film some credit for attempting to talk about some really serious issues in a stark and crude realistic way. However I find myself wondering: just because a movie touches important issues and goes to places where many don’t even dare looking, does that make it a good film?

Ill Manors (still trying to work the meaning of the actual title) is clearly a film made by a first time director: it’s full of energy and ideas. It’s inspirational too… But  unfortunately some of the inexperience shows up on the screen too. It’s almost as if director Ben Drew didn’t feel confident enough of his own material and felt he had to pepper the film (unevenly, I may add) with a series of flashy visual devices: some of them work, but then, once the story takes over, the film almost forgets to keep up with them. It makes me wonder if Ill Manors could have been a much more powerful film, if the director had actually restrained some of that rather showy visual style and un-linear editing and had just concentrated more of the story. I’m not against time-laps or montage sequences edited to rap music (some of which were actually beautifully done), but I think once you establish a style, you should stick with it. In Ill Manors everything felt rather random and arbitrary: a hotchpotch of visual ideas and devices, borrowed from many other films before (Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, just to mention the most obvious ones), but all without any real reason. And the proof is in the pudding: the strongest and most interesting bits in the film are also the plainest and the ones where the director focused just on his actors (or actually non-actors apparently) to tell the story of a broken society alive and well right in the heart of London.

Despite the claims of realism, this bleak vision of Britain feels a bit contrived in places: lines like  “Can I try some crack?” the endless prostitution scenes and the final sequence in particular when a fire takes place in a pub, all feel a bit heavy-handed and wildly exaggerated. Also most of the characters are a little bit too stereotypical and the film seems to rely more on the charisma of our main lead, Riz Ahmed (from Four Lions), for the audience to sympathise with, instead of giving him a full fleshed-out and a much more believable persona.

In the end the amount of horror and depressing bleakness is just too much and what was already a fairly long film, with too many subplots, eventually just imploded. An exhausted audience during my screening even burst into laughing during the final climax (yes, it might have been a hysterical laugh, but still a laugh… and that’s just the wrong reaction to have for such film!). The points  Ill Manorswants to make are made quite earlier on and after a while it all becomes just too repetitious, over the top and indulgent. All this makes it loose its edge and diminishes its important message.

It is a brave film and certainly must be commended for trying: there are some very intense and good moments, which I am really praising, however, even though I might talk to people about Ill Manors, I don’t think I’ll ever reccomend anyone to watch it (aside for our prime ministers and politicians).

6.5/10

Sunday Times (June, 10th)

For all its gritty realism, Ill Manors has a streak of sentimental fantasy to it. It’s one thing to suggest that the char­acters aren’t all bad, and that they are capable of moral virtue(…) But when we see an uncaring thug risking his life to save a baby from a burning building, we have left the mean streets of London for the fantasy world of Hollywood. So much for keeping it real.  

Prometheus – Review

Prometheus (2012) – 

Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Noomi RapaceMichael FassbenderCharlize TheronIdris ElbaGuy PearceLogan Marshall-GreenSean HarrisRafe SpallEmun Elliott.

After 33 years, Prometheus has finally landed!

For any fan out there (including me) the hype surrounding this film has been almost unbearable to cope with, as the viral marketing campaign was one of the most intriguing and well thought-out of the last decade, matching even the one for the Avengers in its intensity and capacity to tease, without giving away too much.

For months and months we’ve been spoon-fed little tiny bits of information about the mysteriously titled Prometheus. All we knew is that it was possibly a prequel (or at least it had some connections) to 1979’s masterpieces Alien and it would probably answer some of those open questions which have been left hanging ever since.

We had all reasons to be excited, especially when you think that Ridley Scott is the director who essentially single-handedly redefined this sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well): this is his first return sci-fi in 30 years and the first Alien film since the disappointing Alien Resurrection back in 1997 (no, I’m not even counting those AVP movies, and nor should you!).

Needless to say when the expectations are so high, the questions are so many and the fans are so eager, disappointment is inevitable. No film will ever be able to satisfy a 33 years old hunger. And it’s a shame, because Prometheus is actually not a bad film, it’s just not as ground-breaking as we all hoped and it’s a victim of its own hype. It is also best enjoyed if you know very little about it, so if you haven’t seen it, do stop reading now!

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Its promising start, in a typically Ridley Scott ‘s fashion,is rather moody and slow it takes at least an hour for the first “shock”, but it’s also some of the best part. Scott plays with his audience creating a certain feeling of deja-vu while still trying to add new elements to the mix: it’s comfortable and intriguing at the same time. Simple and complex. Meaningful and trashy. And inevitably, we are constantly trying to figure out how does it all fit in the Alien mythology until the very last scene, which is rather gratuitous and yet incredibly satisfying for any fans of Alien (and also hinting at some possible sequels).

Unfortunately what starts out as a thoughtful take on Darwinians versus theologists will soon turn into a more conventional monster movie and that feeling of deja-vu will become its undoing.

In a way some of the beauty of the original Alien was its bare simplicity and its minimal approach. Tension was coming from those long silences and those sudden burst of violence and horror. Scott seems almost afraid of that simplicity here, and opts for a much larger canvas: everything on Prometheus is on a grander scale, from its themes and questions about the origin of mankind, to its great vistas (He even gets down to quote David Lean’ Lawrence Of Arabia in a non-very subtle way) and the epic music (which I found absolutely dreadful. Has Ridley Scott really sold out to conventional Hollywood smaltzy intrusive soundtrack during every single scene ?!). It’s all enhanced by being on 3D. This for once works very well when filming those great landscapes but it’s not as effective when trying to create tension in those crammed familiar corridors and instead of adding an extra dimension  to where danger could be coming from, it just becomes rather forgettable. It can’t even be a funny cheap gimmick (I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I would have loved a face-hugger coming towards camera, and the audience).

Everything else here is then crammed with details which instead of making the film more interesting, inevitably distance it from its original predecessor. For example where is all that technology coming from? In Alien they seemed to have very simple computers, and techno-gear in general. And yet that film was supposed to be later in the future, wasn’t it? Oh well, I’m picking needles here.

I know the constant comparison with Alien is unfair, but ultimately it is also unavoidable as it is also the film’s main hook on people.

Don’t take me wrong, there are some great things about Prometheus which I really liked, but unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver on all its promises and it ends up being rather derivative sci-fi.

I loved its ambitiousness, Noomi Rapace, David the Robot (Possibly the film’s best creation), the spotless special effects, the  cinematography and look of it and some of the idea it’s playing with, but I did missed that sense of fear and dread that Alien still gives me every time I watch it. There were very few surprises throughout  and most crucially very little tension (especially considering the film it’s trying to emulate, which is the KING of tension) and after a while it saddened me to see it switching on auto-pilot and becoming rather conventional and feeling very rushed in the last part.

There were too many undeveloped, two-dimensional, bland characters populating the film (even Charlize Theron, who I usually love, could have easily been written out and it would not have made any difference) and in the end it all contributed to make me emotionally detached from it all.

It’s almost as if Ridley Scott could not decide which film he wanted to tell: a sci-fi about the beginning to the universe, his own version of 2001, a monster movie, an Alien prequel… I guess in the end there is something for everyone (except pregnant women, who should stay WELL AWAY from this as the most gruesome and most memorable scene has an intensity which they will not be able to take). In fact there is a lot to digest in just one viewing (I wonder if there might even be an extended cut which will probably surface on Blu-ray in a year or so), but ultimately this is a handsomely film for any sci-fi lover (and an intriguing appetizer for any Alien fan) and it’s a film with ideas more than just loud bangs and explosions.

7.5/10

RECENT ADDITION from the 8th of June 2012

All the recent negative reactions to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus say more about the counter-productive effect of a marketing campaign which was just too big and eventually just imploded on itself, than it says about the actual film.

The expectations were just too high, and the hunger for it too big.

The film was supposed to answer questions which have been hanging for 33 years since the first Alien was first released. And of course Ridley Scott was the man who single-handedly redefined the sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well) and this was his first return to space in 3 decades.

Disappointment was inevitable and the film became a victim of its own hype.

On the first viewing very few people judged it for its own merits, while everyone else (including me) compared it to a film which had been made in a time when there was nothing like that.

Prometheus may not be the prequel fans wanted (not quite sure what that would have been anyway), it may not be as ground-breaking as some had hoped, but it’s not a bad film…

I do wonder… if Prometheus had been directed by some unknown newcomer or had it not been trumpeted by endless trailers and teasers, would we have been able to judge it differently? Interestingly, critical reaction to the first Alien was initially pretty negative too. Famously Time Out called it an “empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty”

Should the marketing campaign have been handled differently? Probably not. The box office speaks pretty clearly and at the end of the day in Hollywood money talks louder than a few disappointed reviewers and bloggers. In fact, not one, but sequels are already in the pipeline.

Snow White and the Huntsman – Review

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)  

Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Kristen StewartChris HemsworthCharlize TheronSam ClaflinIan McShaneBob HoskinsRay WinstoneNick FrostEddie MarsanToby JonesBrian Gleeson.

Fairy tales and children stories are not what they used to be: my memories of Snow White was one of a lovely princess whistling in a forest surround by colourful birds, while the seven dwarfs were happily singing on their way back home. At the time the biggest question of was “will they wash their hands before dinner?”. Well, fair enough, 75 years have passed since the famous Disney version (and obviously over 20 other screen adaptations, including countless pornographic versions, which obviously I’m not going into). But young modern audience is used to much stronger stuff than singing birds, soap bubbles (though arguably the old witch in the Disney version gave nightmares to many at the time, and probably still does). This is a much darker re-invention of the story for the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd (not just in its colour palette but generally in its sensibility veering more towards horror than a fairy tale) and of  course with some Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones added the mix. The title itself might be a little bit misleading and possibly even prevent much of the older audience, who would potentially quite like this adventure like this, from thinking this might be for them.

We shouldn’t forget that after all the original  Snow White story had some undercurrent grim and dark tones to it, so in a way this version is almost going back to its roots.

Coming into this quite fresh, and expecting to find another horrible Red Riding Hood disaster, I was surprised by visual spectacle and the genuine inventiveness at display in SWATH (which is how Snow White and the Huntsmanis known on twitter). The director of Rupert Sanders comes from the world of commercials and that really shows, both in a good and bad way: on one hand the look of the film is actually very very good, in fact better than any of the Twilight movies, or the latest Harry Potter instalments I must say. The special effects too are seamlessly integrated in the action, and kudos to the film makers for deciding against yet another 3D post-convertion. However the other side of the director’s commercial background shows up in the film’s very patchy nature. At times it really seems to be made up by a series of scenes stringed together (well, it probably was) without a real sense of drama. Characters come in and out of the story, but none of them has any depth. There is obviously the usual love triangle at play here, which is now inescapable in our post-twilight culture. In one corner the Huntsman from the title, in the other Prince William (no, not that one), but the relationship is never really explored in any depth, in fact it’s hardly even touched on: it’s just there and we are supposed to take it for granted. What do those 2 men think of each other? And what does she think of them? And why didn’t the prince’s first kiss resuscitate Snow White? Did I miss something? It’s all a bit confusing… But then again, it might all become a lot clearer in the obligatory sequel (teased by the half-satisfying ending)

But does any of that matter? Well, only to a degree. Despite its obvious weaknesses from a dramatic point of view and being completely devoid of humour, the film still manages to be a sumptuous imaginative feast for the eye and an exciting and arresting action romp… It’s clearly derivative from all sorts of other movies made before, but it’s entertaining and inventive enough… if only somebody had remembered to tell a proper story too.

Charlize Theron is clearly having the time of her life playing the evil godmother/queen/witch. She camps it up as much as she possibly can and after all, if you’re hoping to get away with lines like “mirror mirror on the wall who’s the fairer of them all“, this is probably the only way to do it (… and by the way, despite of what the mirror says, my answer will always be “Charlize Charlize!!!!”). In fact she does such a fine job  that in the end you almost don’t want her to be defeated.

And finally the seven dwarves who come so late into the film that by the time they show up I had completely forgotten they should have been in at all. The CGI wizardry here is something to marvel at, as recognisable faces of well-known actors are somehow morphed onto bodies of actual small people. It is absolutely seamless and quite disconcerting (and a little bit unfair for real small people actually… Is this going to be the end of  their career as actors? It feels a bit wrong… Almost like having white people turned black by CGI). But however spectacular their appearances are, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re all quite interchangeable with each other and pretty soul-less. In fact there was a lot more characterisation in the Disney animated version from 70 years ago that in this one.

But hey, let’s take the film for what it is and not for what it could have been. It is flawed, but in the end both look and style and the sheer inventiveness and the detailed recreations save the day and the film delivers more than the actual title promises.

7/10 (with some reservations)

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