- Modern Family Season 1 (2009), Christopher Lloyd & Steven Levitan – I’m not one for TV comedy generally, but this is a fantastic show. It all comes down to characters, with all of them being fully formed, hilarious individuals who continuously defy your expectations with their foibles. Manny is the best written character I’ve come across on television; whilst Ed O’Neill as the simultaneously grizzled yet endearing Jay is the character with the most growth, despite being the oldest. Great stuff.
- The Original Movie (1922), Tony Sarg – Incredible animation style stands out in this very early satire on the ‘business’ of the film industry and comments on artistic licence. A lot of the humour arises from the witty intertitles whilst a lot of the joy comes from admiring a visual style that is no longer produced. Manages to work in a few potshots at censorship as well, so you have to love that.
- Private Snafu: Spies (1943), Chuck Jones – An official American WWII propaganda cartoon directed by the iconic Chuck Jones. This is a real window into the past, essentially a warning to keep information confidential. Not much has changed in that regard, could almost be a contemporary anti-terrorism ad. The quite beautiful traditional animation, and familiar voices make this a treat to watch.
- The Sandlot Kids (1993), David M. Evans – I used to absolutely love this film as a kid, despite having little interest in baseball like most Aussie kids. Dennis Leary and Karen Allen are perfect as the parents of Scott Smalls, whilst the young cast members are all pretty excellent. Chief amongst them the charismatic leader of the crew Mike Vitar and the hilarious Patrick Renna, who was somewhat ubiquitous in family films of this vintage. I still absolutely love this film.
- Modern Family Season 2 (2010), Christopher Lloyd & Steven Levitan – Initially it seems as though the writing in this second season has lost some of the snap of the first. But it grows as the season progresses. The evolution and deepening of the various family relationships make this an intriguing, developing season. And the silly hi-jinks of Phil and Luke Dunphee are good for a fair quota of belly laughs.
- Little Nemo (1911), Winsor McCay – I came across this on the excellent Cineroulade site, which I encourage you all to check out. This story of a man creating very early animations features some incredible, if laboured drawings. It’s actually quite a gentle, funny comedy that for today’s audience showcases the technology of extremely old filmmaking. A great, fun combination of live action and animation.
Not Worth Watching:
- Burnt by the Sun (1994), Nikhita Mikhalkov – This Oscar award winning film is a surreally comic look at 30s Soviet Russia. However, at least early on, the comedy is not at all funny. The film concerns a respected Colonel, and the manner in which he is betrayed by the State. A few things work, the tender relationship between Colonel Kotov and his young wife and daughter for example. But unfortunately too much does not, the plot is pretty standard with an associate from the past returning to make trouble and overall, it’s all a bit unsatisfying.
- Before the Rain (1994), Milco Mancevski – This very slow moving Macedonian film suffers from the structural approach it takes. By dividing the narrative into an almost circular triptych, the film struggles to engage with the audience. I found this really quite a bore to watch. The last third is definitely the most satisfying, with a sense of character and journey. But the first two leave you too disinterested to really care.
- Prometheus (2012), Ridley Scott – Has more supremely original ideas than any film needs. But these are not integrated successfully into the script, which clunks. It looks amazing, with them design on par with the iconic earlier iterations of the franchise. But some of the actors are out of their depth, whilst neither the action or horror elements really worked for me. My major gripe though is that at times it felt like the film was trying to make me see the message, or ask life’s biggest questions, but forgetting to entertain me.
- Get the Gringo (2012), Adrian Grunberg – You can see why this went straight to DVD in other territories. It’s a pretty woeful and tired effort from Gibson et al. You would struggle to find more middle of the road filmmaking than this effort which literally put me to sleep. If you are hoping for over the top, prison break fun like I was, look elsewhere.
If you only have time to watch one Modern Family Series 1
Avoid at all costs Prometheus
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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.
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.
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?
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