Monthly Archives: June, 2012

Trailer for your Weekend: Savages

No trailers have jumped out to get me excited over the last week, so I had to go on a bit of a rampage of watching things I had barely or not at all heard of. The resulting trailer that got me excited was this one for the upcoming Oliver Stone film Savages. Stone is always an interesting director, and whilst I haven’t read any of his books, I have heard really good things about Don Winslow (who also adapted the book for the screen). Throw in a cast with intriguing names such as Travolta and Del Toro (though I must say I find Blake Lively to be a pretty unexciting film presence) and this will hopefully be a cracking crime flick.

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Trailer for your weekend: Monsters University

Here is a trailer that has me really excited. Monsters University is a prequel to my absolute favourite Pixar film Monsters Inc. The film is not due out til next year, so it really is just a teaser. But this has whetted my appetite for the film even more. You guys looking forward to Monsters University?

Prometheus: A Different Perspective

The internet has essentially exploded since Prometheus opened, with in-depth discussion of it’s themes and exploration of life’s great questions. A friend of mine wrote this piece and posted it on Facebook, and I think that it offers an interesting perspective on the film, from the point of view of a massive fan of the series’ original two films. It also addresses the vexed ‘prequel’ question which I think has flown under the radar. This guest blog comes to you thanks to Steve Crilly who wrote it, and was kind enough to let me publish it.

This isn’t really a review. My ‘review’ of Prometheus could very well be summed up in one sentence: “I wish they hadn’t bothered”. Nor is it an in-depth analysis in the vein of several literally novella-length theses that I have seen on the film’s themes. I don’t want to do that because I don’t think Prometheus merits the treatment.

For the benefit of anyone who is yet to see the film, this will be extremely spoiler-heavy.

My main issue with Prometheus stems from the fact that it is a prequel, despite attempts to distance it from the Alien series. It’s very definitely a direct prequel in two senses. First, it directly precedes Alien. Second, it’s an obvious tee-up for Prometheus II, which I really hope is never filmed but which I suspect is inevitable. Most of my issues with Prometheus stem from the fact that it is a prequel in the former sense, but the latter is relevant too, if only because it means that they might make more of this crap.

Alien has the probably unique distinction of being one of my favourite films in not one but two genres: science fiction and horror. A lot of what makes it great actually stems from limitations on what filmmakers could do in 1979, and how those problems were overcome. Consider the penultimate scene when Ripley finally banishes the Alien into space and char grills it with the shuttle’s engines. The following things look dated and kind of stupid: (1) the painted space background, (2) the ship model, (3) the Alien itself in full view, which is gangly, awkward, and, in that shot, obviously a doll on a string.

Alien (film)

Scott’s original worked fantastically as both a sci-fi film, and a horror one.

The ways in which Ridley Scott got around the limits imposed by his budget and the era make the film iconic. He kept the action mostly inside, in dark and claustrophobic corridors and halls full of painstakingly painted, instantly recognisable HR Giger artwork. He shot the film so that the action is brutal and finished in an instant. Above all, he only showed snatches of the Alien – second-long flashes of teeth, spines and slime – and let viewers’ imaginations fill in the blanks. By adopting these measures, he produced something visually stunning, innovative, and deeply unnerving.

2012 isn’t 1979. With the full array of CGI available to them, filmmakers don’t have to be inventive as they once did. So, instead of a largely hidden alien that strikes from the shadows, we get a giant tentacle rape monster attacking a huge, pale super-human. This immediately follows a spaceship collision that had me looking for Michael Bay’s name in the credits. The disturbing rape and unnatural pregnancy motifs from the originals – not exactly subtle, mind, when people are ‘impregnated’ by oral penetration and phallic aliens burst from their chests – could not be more literally rendered in Prometheus. Anyone who’s seen it knows which scene I’m talking about. 

The reason that I can’t forgive Prometheus is it that whatever its pretentions to philosophy, it turns Alien into a failed summer blockbuster (cf Aliens, which turned it into a great summer blockbuster). The question it naturally raises is whether Alien would have been any good if it had been filmed for the first time in 2012. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. However it came about, Alien is a great film (though not without its flaws). But Prometheus isn’t like Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, or those other two of which we shall not speak. This isn’t a set of rookie writers and directors shambling along to mortgage the franchise’s remaining dignity for a few million dollars. Ridley Scott directed Alien. He had a huge budget and full creative control of Prometheus. And he fucked up.

The principal cast members of Alien. Left to r...

The original Alien crew

It’s not just the lack of subtlety that irks me about the film. It’s that it makes no goddamn sense. Elizabeth Shaw turns into an action heroine immediately after undergoing major surgery without anaesthesia. There’s no hint of her sterility until about six second before it becomes a plot point. Guy Pearce is totally superfluous, because Shaw’s love interest fills the zealot role and needn’t have died when he does. I don’t mind characters being around as alien fodder, (see: every character in the first two films except Ripley, Newt, the only guy in Aliens who wasn’t a total cock, the robots, and that cat) but I don’t see what the fuck Charlize Theron’s character is doing there except as a contrast to people who aren’t total knobs. I’m sure that Idris Elba can lift a flamethrower, and she doesn’t even get eaten for Christ’s sake. I have no idea why the geologist comes back as a zombie. I just don’t see why that is a thing. For that matter, does the black goop dissolve people, zombify them, spontaneously create snake monsters, or all of the above?

Prometheus-Spaceship

The titualar spaceship from Prometheus. As we speak an escape pod from this bad boy is transporting Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender’s head at great speed toward a sequel (to the prequel).

And so on. Basically, this wasn’t a worthy addition to the Alien canon. Worse, moving away from the events of the Sigourney Weaver films, now there’s a real chance that in a few years’ time I will find myself in a dark cinema, subjecting myself to Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender’s head going off on a buddy movie road trip to meet and possibly kill humanity’s makers. I will see the Prometheus sequel if it happens, but I am also going to bring a bottle of gin.

– by Steve Crilly

Prepping for Prometheus

Prometheus (2012) has exploded across cinema screens all over the world over the last couple of weeks, signalling Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi genre, and the franchise that made him famous. If you have been to the cinema over the past few months, you have no doubt seen a preview or two, but if not, this is what it is all about:

Scott seems to be in a nostalgic mood given the news that he is also hard at work on a new Blade Runner (1982) sequel/prequel/reboot or whatever it is going to be. Having seen the marketing and read a fair bit about the new entry, I thought I needed to get some homework done before catching Scott’s new film. And what better way to do so than checking out the first two films in the franchise, which are on the 1001. One more digression first though, speaking of the marketing for the film, the powers that be behind the film have tapped into the TED talk zeitgeist and produced this:

Alien (1979) is, up until this point in time, the only film in the series directed by Scott himself. Despite its iconic status, before watching it I knew very little about the plot or direction the film would take, which is a great place to be starting from. I did know (from the horribly spoiler-ridden DVD case) that only one character survived the events of the film, and I had seen a still of the infamous ‘chest burster’ scene, but as to how we would get to those points I was clueless.

One thing that Alien is, is wholly atmospheric. Right from the opening credits sequence with a great song in the background and very slow reveal of the word Alien which sets the tone for the entire film. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire production is the set design, and this is another element of the film which really helps to build the atmosphere. The interior of the ship looks amazingly realistic, like a spaceship should or could actually look. There is no glossy, Star Wars sheen here. For the first 5 minutes of the film, the audience does not see anything or anyone. The ship looks empty, abandoned and shut down, and this tension is heightened by the soundtrack, which intrudes itself in on these proceedings, almost like an extra character.

The plot concerns the small crew of the Conradian named space tug ship Nostromo, and their interactions with the titular beast that starts knocking them off one by one. They are in some sort of hibernation on the long trip back to Earth when the ship automatically wakes them up to investigate an unknown transmission. They find themselves landing on an unknown planet with winds whipping around them at great speed adding an extra dimension to their apprehension. Once they are inside the huge structure they find on this planet, the set design again comes to the fore, with towering structures and huge eggs. When the creatures eventually turn up on the scene, they too are designed with believable care. It is at this point that horror elements begin to be mixed into the sci-fi ones seen up until this point. A strange, slimy something explodes out of an egg and attaches itself to John Hurt’s face. The entire thing is a classic set-up. The ship is marooned in an unknown planet and bad shit starts to happen. Could just as easily be a haunted house or a rocky outcrop in the ocean. And you know that shit is getting real once the alien gets into the air vents.

Giger's Alien design, inspired by his earlier ...

A design drawing for the alien in the first film.

At the height of the horror sequences, the film creeped me out as much as not more than anything I else I have seen. Like many of the best aspects of the film, the success of these owes to the incredible design, in this case the incredibly crafted creature design. And no discussion of the film would be complete without mention of the iconic ‘chest burster’ scene. I won’t go into too much spoiler laden detailing (although referring to it as the ‘chest burster’ scene is a bit of a hint). However what I will say is that John Hurt delivers a wonderful performance through this kinetic, gory interlude. Unfortunately the effects of the creature that does the bursting, have aged quite badly. The larger alien is also a little tame and dated, and the next couple of kills are also a little underwhelming. This is an issue because the film does essentially become a wander from kill to kill as the crew members are picked off… until one remains. As the iconic, remaining heroine Ridley, Sigourney Weaver gives an assured, really enjoyable turn.

This is the best looking sci-fi film I have ever come across, and is quite possible the most atmospheric as well. This is not an absolute favourite of mine, some of the iconic hype is lost on me, but it is really good. But you can see why it has that status, the design and originality leap off at you.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

The second film in the franchise saw directing duties handed from Scott, to the rather assured hands of James Cameron. The result was Aliens (1986), a sequel many hold up as a beacon of the possibility of sequels outstripping the original. For me, it is a very close run thing. I think Aliens succeeds best as a space-set action film, rather than the melding of horror and sci-fi genres delivered by the first film.

Aliens (film)

Poster for the sequel

The film essentially occurs directly after the events of Alien. By directly, I mean once Ripley awakens from 57 years of hypersleep, at which point no one believes her story of what took place. Immediately Ripley is a much more fully formed character, the trauma evident in her from both her ordeal, and reception from those who she tells her story to. However, despite the prevailing scepticisms, before too long Ripley is back in action as contact is lost with the settlers on the original Alien planet. It was here that things for me took a bit of a turn for the annoying. The start is very slow for one thing. More than that though is the crew of blokes that Ripley is sent back with. They are a squadron of marines, trading in the typical, horrific masculine bullshit culture of the military. Perhaps this is too well conveyed, because I found all these characters frustrating, aggro and unpleasant to watch led by Bill Paxton in one of the more annoying performances ever.

For me, basically the whole first half of the film is a bit of a write off. The first film’s incredible design is there, the ship and its surrounds wonderfully realised. Everything is bigger too, in typical sequel fashion. The crew is much larger, and as you can guess from the plural title, there are rather more aliens for Ripley and co to combat. This last fact actually works against the film. Because more are killed throughout the film, they do not seem that big a threat, whereas one seemingly un-killable alien loomed large over the first film. I just could not get over the real focus on militarism, which I did not think added anything to the film, and detracted plenty. Although perhaps to dismiss the whole first half is exaggerating a little. The initial drop into the planet aboard the spaceship is a really good moment, built up expertly well and leaving the viewer unsure of what they will find when they finally reach the surface. Unfortunately once there, the marines are greeted with empty rooms. Empty room after empty room in a really drawn out, unnecessarily long sequence.

However, the second half of Aliens really shifts into gear, providing the best moments of these two films in a fantastic action focused romp. The creature design is again brilliant, with a few rather gross lashings this time around.  The film is in such a rush of bombardment and action, that it is easy to not mind too much the inclusion of that most twee of touches in these kind of films, the young child castaway. Even the burgeoning romance between Ripley and one of the marines is not as horrible as it sounds. Again in this latter part of the film, the depth of Ripley’s character is a big bonus as the more fully formed lead rages against wrongs and eventually turns into a gun-toting badarse. Thematically as well things are more fully formed here I think, with some rocking Asimov robotics concerns.

This is a relatively different film to the first, which is always a nice place to find yourself in with a sequel. I think this is on par with the first, so not an out and out classic in my mind, but still very good. And the last half hour is really excellent and a hell of a ride.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 57/1001

Trailer for your Weekend: The Amazing Spider-man

Modern trailers get a fair bagging. And generally for good reason. There is a tendency to give away far too much plot and all the best jokes, having the effect of a spoiler ridden review.

But every so often a trailer serves its purpose – makes you want to see the movie. This week’s trailer did that for me. I was not at all keen for The Amazing Spider-man. I thought a reboot was entirely unnecessary, and that if a another Spider-man film needed to be made, it should be another Raimi film (despite the general woefulness of much of his third). But this looks like a really cool new take, with a bit of humour, back story and engaging leads.

Check out the trailer, and let me know your thoughts.And enjoy your weekend.

 

 

Worth Watching May 2012

Worth Watching:

  • Sherlock Series 2 (2012), Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss – More of the utterly awesome same. These guys really know how to finish off a series too – wow what an ending! Superb acting, and the construction of the episodes (movies really) means the joys unfold sublimely well. Put simply, if you haven’t caught this, go out and do so.
  • Hidden (2005), Michael Haneke – This sorta thriller features very clever use of style, incorporating video technology such as fast forwarding wonderfully into the  narrative. An examination of unwanted surveillance, as a couple are terrorised by tapes of their house and strange drawings sent to them. An intriguing, and well acted, weaving of the past into the present.
  •  Burning Man (2011), Jonathan Teplitzky – As good as I could imagine a study of grief being. Incredibly fragmented opening half hour distils brilliantly at just the right moment. Performances are uniformly brilliant whilst the direction is similarly excellent. I cried at the death of a character I had known for two shots. I’m not a crier, but I wept or cried openly for the entire last hour of this. One of the very few films that do death (and by extension life) justice. If I had of seen it in time, this would have been in my top 5 for last year.
  • Wish You Were Here (2012), Kieran Darcy-SMith – Well off young people getting into serious trouble appears to be the trope of choice in Aussie cinema at the moment. Splintered, non-linear narrative works well here to gradually reveal the true nature of what each character knew. A pretty enjoyable outing with universally unlikeable characters. The shocking ending is a winner though.
  • The Woman in Black (2012), James Watkins – This haunted house flick is a cracking chiller. It’s all very Victorian – fog, marshland and distrusting locals hiding something. Shot very cleverly to enhance the atmosphere and shocks. A contained, taut film anchored by excellent performances from Daniel Radcliffe and Ciaran Hinds. Scared the shit out of me too.

  • Dark Shadows (2012), Tim Burton – This very fun film is actually a meditation on the nature & function of family, with some distinctly adult flashes. Burton & Depp have successfully dialled it down here resulting in a fantastically restrained performance and an incredible looking (1972 set) but not visually gimmicky film. A simple story and a great cast equal lots of fun.
  • Tinkler Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Tomas Alfredson – Novelist John Le Carre is known for his labyrinthine plots, and I had been warned that this adaptation of his most famous novel was borderline impossible to follow. But to me, it just requires close viewing, an old school, slow burn of a spy thriller. Beautifully shot, with close-ups driving the story. A tense, cracking adult film that is with one of the best male ensembles ever cobbled together with Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong the best of a very good bunch. I will admit though that the final reveal was not entirely clear to me.
  • The Descendents (2011), Alexander Payne – I think this is an overrated film, but by no means a bad one, and one that grows as it goes along. A man’s wife goes into a coma, at which point he has to ramp up his parenting duties and discovers she has been having an affair. Clooney is extremely good in an exceedingly difficult role – that of a man put in an insane position. It sort of turns into a wonderfully strange, absurd road trip with an inspired confrontation scene and a delightful building of a father-daughter bond.
  • Men in Black 3 (2012) Barry Sonnenfeld – This is just great fun. So good to see people like Josh Brolin and Emma Thompson being exceedingly silly. This series of films are silly, but at their best, inspiringly, absurdistly so. Not much is done with the time travel aspect of the narrative, and the huge secret reveal at the end is a hollow attempt to add gravitas where it is not wanted. But this is one of the funniest, and funnest big budget romps of the year.
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012), Deb Cox & Shelly Birse – What an awesome Australian show, a period crime tales told with unrelenting joy. Simply amazing characters, led by Essie Daviss as the one of a kind titular detective, backed by 5 or 6 others you can’t help but love. Fun for the most part, but it also shows it can really ramp up the tension over the last couple of episodes. Very happy to hear that series two is in the works.

Not Worth Watching:

  • The Promise (1995), Marharethe von Trotta – A weighty start gives way to a pretty tepid, clichéd love story. Not that surprising when you consider the premise – young lovers divided by the Berlin Wall. Oh, think of the metaphors. The lack of backstory hinders the main two characters, as well as their supposed intense love, whilst the film is melodramatic in a bad way. Some interesting ideas, but an annoying change of actors in the main role and a script that bumbles attempting to render the differences between East and West mean they don’t shine through.
  • Iron Sky (2012), Timo Vuorensola – This really not very good film completely wastes the incredible concept of Nazis on the dark side of the Moon. It is nowhere near self aware enough, and is just bad and unfunny. The sci-fi and action elements are simply unexhilarating whilst the visuals are bland and acting uniformly woeful. Bad enough though that it will probably gain a cult following on DVD.
  • The Dictator (2012), Larry Charles – A film dedicated to Kim Jong Ill – A heinous tyrant who tortured and murdered. That’s the kind of thing this film finds funny. Not just ignorant and dismissive of the terrible goings on of the Arab Spring, but downright racist in parts. Comedy about dictators and the like can be subversively brilliant (I’m looking at you Chaplin) but this is not at all. And worst of all for a comedy – it’s deeply, deeply unfunny.

If you only have time to watch one Burning Man

Avoid at all costs The Dictator

Trailer for your Weekend: Django Unchained

This is intended to be the first post in a weekly series. Whilst a lot of this blog focuses on older film, I am a lover of contemporary cinema as well. And what better way to share that love, and get a little excited for the weekend, then by sharing a trailer.

The trailers will not always be ones that have only just hit the net, but that’s what this week’s is. Below is the first teaser trailer for Tarantino’s Django Unchained. There is no other director working who is a genre on to himself. There are ‘Tarantino Films’ and this looks like it will be another one. Just check the soundtrack. Tarantino, love him or hate him, is a truly original beast and I can’t wait for this one to hit screens at the start of next year (earlier if you are reading this from the States). I think this is a really cool trailer. It lays down the narrative, but it doesn’t feel like all the best bits of it have been given away.

What are your thoughts on the trailer for Django Unchained?