REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Imposter [Review]

Perhaps the year’s most fascinating film thus far, The Imposter delves headfirst into a world of ambiguity; and, indeed, ambiguity is, for the majority of its 99 minute runtime, its sole offering to its audience.

Not that that audience would want to remain passive anyway – the information unloaded in this docu-drama is, for the most part, only bereft of the answers it cannot give: but the manner and timeliness in which it reveals the information that it can give gifts us so much more. The Imposter tells the tale, as it were, of 13 year-old Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared from Texas in 1993 only to [supposedly] turn up three years and four months later in Spain.

Of course, it’s no spoiler to tell you that the new Nicholas is in fact not the same being as the old Nicholas. No, this is someone else entirely, lest puberty hit Nicholas harder than most. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed 13 year-old Texan is now a dark-haired, brown-eyed man with a five-o-clock shadow and a heavy French accent. Something’s amiss, but Nicholas’ family doesn't even notice.

You might think that’s all there is to it. The family were just so desperate to have their boy back that they accepted a clear imposter into their home. That’s as far as a daily tabloid paper might run with the story, anyway; The Imposter, however, seeks to delve far deeper into the mystery, of how and why an average American family would welcome a stranger into their lives, and the true intents and background of the eponymous pretender.

And the revelations are stunning, if not likely to hit hard enough to throw you off your feet in disbelief. Rather than a series of blunt shocks, The Imposter builds tension from an increasing sense of discomfort and uneasiness, which trickles through its superbly constructed storyboarding and delivery of information (a brilliant mix of interviews, home footage and dramatisations), to the end that its audience cannot simply remain passive. We are forced to ask our own questions of the film; not just those it prompts, either, and all as it dangles answers so tantalisingly close.

Some never come, but this is a documentary, after all – as they say, the truth must out. Director Bart Layton does plenty with what he has anyway, keeping us in 99 minutes of superb suspense, and in the end there’s no real need for all the answers: The Imposter is incredulous enough to allow room for interpretation – a rare commodity of the documentary. Closure’s for fiction, anyway.


Dir: Bart Layton
Cast: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Nancy Fisher, Charlie Parker
Film4, 99 mins, 24/08/12

Synopsis: 1993: Nicholas Barclay, 13, disappears from San Antonio, Texas. 1997: A young Frenchman manages to convince Nicholas' entire family that he is their missing boy. How? Why? And just who is this imposter?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises [Review]

How many trilogies do you know where all three components stack up in equal measure? Possibly the only two that come close are the original Star Wars trilogy (Ewoks pending) and The Lord of the Rings.  It’s a rare thing, namely due to the curse of the threequel – see Spider-Man 3, Rush Hour 3 et al.

And just as the release of the other of the summer’s superhero blockbusters was surrounded by one question (was it necessary?), so too is the release of Christopher Nolan’s final instalment of his Dark Knight Trilogy surrounded by a singular matter: can it live up to the unbelievably high standards the director set himself with Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), or will it fall prey to the curse of the threequel?

I’d like to offer you an answer to this in a nutshell, but it isn’t that simple. Sorry, folks: you’re going to have to read the entire thing this time. (Skipping to the stars won’t cut it either, I’m afraid.) The Dark Knight Rises is a curious beast for a sequel in that it is actually its differences from its predecessors that form its main strengths.

The film opens, as did The Dark Knight, with a prologue (which will be familiar to IMAX viewers of 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) introducing its villain. Here said villain comes in the form of masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy), though following the structure of the previous instalments, he’s not the only threat to Gotham, nor the only other suped-up principal character – but more on that later.

Our introduction to Bane sees him kidnapping a man from a plane by destroying the aircraft around him. Subtlety’s definitely not his forte, then. But for a man who could conceivably take on the Hulk in a fistfight with even odds, that’s perhaps to be expected. Anyway, Bane journeys to Gotham with a villainous plan that even exceeds the scale of that of Begins – and certainly that of Knight.

Meanwhile, the caped crusader himself has not been seen in the streets of Gotham for eight years, following the climactic scenes of the previous instalment that saw him take the blame for the crimes of Harvey Dent (or Two-Face, for comic fans). The streets are relatively clean, with a thousand crooks behind bars due to the Dent Act – seemingly, there’s no need for old Bats anymore.

Which is probably a good thing, considering the state Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) himself is in. A crippled recluse, the billionaire has barely been seen in eight years (surely someone should be putting two and two together here), hiding out in his mansion following the loss of childhood friend Rachel in The Dark Knight.

It takes a thieving maid in the form of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to shake him out of his stupor, and it’s no wonder: where the use of Catwoman (though her alias is never mentioned) doubted many Batfans, she’s actually one of the most surprising and interesting characters. True to the source, she’s a typically grey character – we’re never quite sure where her allegiances lie (or indeed if they lie any way other than with herself).

And when Bane arrives in the city clutching a nuclear bomb and holding Wall Street hostage, it looks as if it’s time to don the cowl one last time. When Bats finally does arrive back on screen – accompanied by a great line from one cop to another which I won’t spoil for you – he does it in appropriate style, unveiling a new flying toy from the Fox department.

With all the build-up and character introductions finally out of the way – which takes a good hour, though with a 164 minute runtime there’s plenty left to come – we get to the meat of the story. So it’s a little slow starting, and there’s perhaps a little too much exposition and unnecessary characters, but with the scale of what comes next you’ll find yourself easily forgiving that.

For the first time in the trilogy we feel a genuine sense of jeopardy and danger for Batman – previously we’ve seen him fight dozens of goons simultaneously with relative ease; his only minor undoing coming in Knight at the hands (paws?) of a few canines. But Bane’s sheer physical strength is more than a match for Batman, who is still weakened from damage to his leg and muscle tissue. The Dark Knight trilogy shows not only the repercussions of heroism and vigilantism on a citywide scale, but also on a personal scale: finally, we see just how vulnerable Bruce Wayne really is. Not to give anything away, of course.

Bane’s imposing strength aside, which makes for some of the tensest and most exciting physical encounters you’ll ever see on screen, his other main sticking point is, of course, his voice. It's a cold, robotic drawl that still somehow carries plenty of sinister charm; indeed, Bane’s dulcet tones stand in stark contrast to the brute force of the character himself. Said force is, of course, what separates him from Knight’s Joker – it was always going to be difficult to top Ledger’s iconic performance, so Bane was a very suitable choice of villain. Where Joker was all about doing a lot with a little, and using mental and emotional tactics over physical acts, Bane is the reverse, and strives to do a lot with... well, a lot.

Or so it would seem. Joker’s agenda, unveiled in his speech to Harvey Dent that gave birth to Two Face in one of Knight’s best scenes, draws some parallels with Bane’s – essentially, inciting the 99% to cause chaos against the 1% - but that of the latter is less clear cut. Does Bane really want to ignite the streets and prompt a revolution, following Nolan’s social commentary that has run through his entire trilogy, or does he simply want to destroy Gotham? When we finally found out more about the character – which, given how little backstory Joker had, is no less than welcome – and how he ties in to the running story of the entire trilogy, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed.

To say more would be to spoil things a little too much, but suffice to say there are more villains in this tale than just Bane (and to an extent, Selina Kyle) – including a handful of familiar faces. Meanwhile, returning actors Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are all on top form as some of Wayne’s only allies, with Caine in particular stealing the show as butler Alfred. Though his motives and allegiance to Wayne’s cause may have altered slightly in the eight years since the billionaire last donned the Batsuit, there’s plenty reason for it, and a few teary eyed exchanges are likely to cause the audience to follow suit.

Franchise newbie Joseph Gordon-Levitt also threatens to steal the limelight from Bale, slotting naturally into Nolan’s Bat-verse. His character arc may drag slightly towards the finale and be painfully predictable, but it also provides a very interesting alternative – the likes of which have never really been seen in the trilogy until now.

But characters aside - where Knight was tightly written and cohered into a logical story, the progression of Rises is questionable. Too often we are asked to further stretch our suspension of disbelief, which doesn’t stack up against Nolan’s emphasis on grounded realism. Time passes sporadically with little indication and characters wind up in locations with little explanation of how. In this sense the scripting can often feel clunky and haphazard – perhaps in due process of the grand themes Nolan attempts to tackle, even in the course of the already bloated runtime (which luckily passes smoothly after the first hour of exposition).

Speaking of clunky scripts, there are one too many plot holes – those so inclined can read a few of them here, but beware the obvious spoilery nature of the article – in a universe that was heretofore almost exempt of them. But for all its flaws – and you will come to realise how many more of them are evident as more time passes since viewing, once you get past the initial awed reaction – The Dark Knight Rises is still a monster of a film: not quite as tight as Knight, but a fitting end to the trilogy that ramps up the scale and hammers on the intensity. 2012’s best superhero blockbuster? You bet your Batmobile it is.


Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard
Warner Bros. Pictures, 164 mins, 20/07/12

Synopsis: Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and it's time for Batman to come out of retirement (don't worry, that doesn't mean George Clooney's back), as terrorist leader Bane threatens to destroy Gotham with a nuclear device, while a mysterious Cat-like woman prowls the streets, and Bruce Wayne's mansion...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man [Review]

The main question on moviegoers’ minds with Marc Webb’s arachnid-hero reboot is, of course: is it worth it? But even after finally viewing the controversial remake, it’s still a tough one to answer.

You know the setup – high-school student Peter Parker struggles to find himself, and then along comes a spider to do it for him. If you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film (which is still only a decade old) or indeed anything remotely related to the franchise, you’ll know this already. What you might not know, if you’ve only seen Raimi’s trilogy, is just how far from the original comics Spider-Man veered.

So that’s Webb’s first goal here: to take a leaf out of the comic books themselves, which are constantly rebooting, and attempt to get things back on track (as reflected in the title, which is taken from that of Spidey’s first series). So Mary Jane’s gone; instead, Gwen Stacy returns from Raimi’s series, this time as Peter’s (original) love interest and in the form of a very blonde Emma Stone, rather than the two-dimensional plot device that was Bryce Dallas Howard in the lacklustre Spider-Man 3.

Elsewhere, we have a renewed focus on Peter Parker’s backstory; the original film skimped heavily on the man behind the suit, at least where his life before it was concerned. Instead, Webb has reversed the situation: the film’s desire to give us a more complete picture of Parker’s life is so great that it is essentially split into two halves – before and after the suit. And it’s the before that really hits home, with more focus on the human side of things, including an eight-year-old Parker being left with his aunt and uncle by fleeing parents – who received no mention whatsoever in Raimi’s trilogy.

Before we get to that, however, let’s concentrate on The Amazing Spider-Man’s strengths (with deliberate avoidance of the now clich├ęd use of the ‘does/doesn’t do what it says on the tin’ titular reference). Namely, Mr. Andrew Garfield, aka Tobey Maguire’s replacement. And what a replacement. Doing a fine job of showing just why Webb’s reboot is justified, the babyfaced actor neatly sidesteps the fact he’s playing a character half his age and blows Maguire’s interpretation out of the water.

More convincing, likeable and yet still one to feel sorry for – particularly after the obligatory death of a relative – Garfield pretty much nails the comic version of Parker. If there’s one flaw in his character, it comes purely from the script (as do most of The Amazing Spider-Man’s flaws) – once he dons the suit, his character comes across as a little too cocky and arrogant, and it becomes more difficult to empathise with his plight to avenge the aforementioned death.

Indeed, as Parker’s ‘transformation’ into the Man Spider takes place, the film undergoes its own transformation – from a high school romance drama between Garfield and Stone into a popcorn action flick. While you might be inclined to assume that surely the latter would be more suited to a superhero film, in the post-Avengers world of summer 2012, the former was a welcome relief from brainless superhero action. Thus, once The Amazing Spider-Man’s villain finally emerges in the form of the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), it feels like a step back for the tone Webb has established in the first half.

The action scenes are hardly Webb’s forte – his previous film credits include (500) Days of Summer and, well, nowt else – so it’s clear why the film’s first half, concentrating on the human relationships, is superior. When the Lizard does come into play, his motivations are underplayed, his delivery too camp (and slightly too Raimi-era Green Goblin-esque) and his appearance too fantastical. The tone doesn’t sit flush with what’s come before, and it’s hard not to wish Webb had gone with a different villain. There’s plenty to choose from, after all.

Meanwhile, more script problems hinder the film’s coherency. Plot points feel underdeveloped; a final scene involving New York’s Joe Public assisting Spidey would have had much more impact had we had any inclination that they had had any prior resentment towards the friendly neighbourhood hero. Without any avenue to show this, however (J Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle are conspicuously absent, aside from a cameo from the paper, with Parker taking photos for... his bedroom wall?) the only person we really see lamenting the existence of Spider-Man is Gwen’s father, Police Captain George Stacy.

But a few flaws with the film’s second act aside, the first half and tone of The Amazing Spider-Man might well be enough to justify its existence, and just what this critic (and perhaps audiences alike) needed in this post-Avengers world. So that’s two of three major superhero blockbusters this summer, and both have succeeded – if for different reasons – though neither have attained close to perfection. The final of the three seemed the only one likely to in the first place, though... and it’s only a week or so till we find out either way.


Dir: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Columbia Pictures, 136 mins, 03/07/12

SynopsisSpider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can... all over again. We're back to square one with Marvel's most popular superhero franchise, in the second of the summer's trio of super-blockbusters, as the experiments of a scientific acquaintance of the young Peter Parker get slightly out of hand...

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Rock of Ages [Review]

Rock of Ages has transparent characters, a tired plot, and features the vocal talents of (among others) Tom Cruise, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin. Why, then, is it so damn enjoyable?

In fact, bar February’s The Muppets, this is quite possibly the most fun I’ve had at the cinema all year. Partly it’s down to the setting: 80s Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and everything that comes with it. Think ballsy rock ballads, denim jackets, perms, and plenty of our old friend Mr. Jack Daniel.

It isn’t for everyone, of course. If you growl, squeal or squirm in an uncomfortable manner at the very mention of the likes of Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Poison et al, then chances are this won’t be up your street. Indeed, aside from an often-enough-hilarious script, it’s purely the distracting musical numbers that’ll draw your attention away from those niggles I mentioned earlier.

Rock of Ages, based on the West End musical of the same name, is at heart a love story – or rather, three parallel love stories. Two of these are mere secondary plot points; on one hand we have rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) and a Rolling Stone journalist rolling around on a pool table, and an unlikely romance brewing between two characters that I feel it would be a crime to spoil.

At the forefront are the youngest - our two leads, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta); innocent, naive and making all the wrong choices. She’s just turned up from Oklahoma with stars in her eyes; he’s a struggling musician working in a bar. Yep, you’ve seen it a thousand times before. Tack on some sidetracking stuff about ‘the man’ trying to shut down the Strip while the film’s main hangout, The Bourbon, struggles with financial woes and it’s like we’re really back in the 80s. Probably.

Anyway, where the plot lacks surprises, the rest of the film packs them in by the barrelful. Mainly in the form of how bloody good everyone seems to be at singing. Maybe it’s slightly autotuned. Who can say? Either way, at least everyone seems to have plenty of fun – not least Mr. Cruise, who once again shows how balls-to-the-wall weird he can be (see Tropic Thunder for more), playing what is essentially a screen representation of Axl Rose. Either way, he understands that this kind of movie should be fun, and, along with Brand and Baldwin, provides the most laughs - it's cheesy, but it's supposed to be.

Hough and Boneta are bland but prototypical of the kind of memorably mediocre glam rock songs that fill the slightly-too-long 123 minute runtime. I say mediocre – how much fun you have with this movie will depend entirely on how much fun you have with the songs. It’s karaoke on the silver screen, so if you can relate – be it from a drunken Christmas party or one too many nights playing Singstar – then it’ll certainly fall on better ears. But give it a shot anyway - you never know how much fun you might have. Just don't stop believing...


Dir: Adam Shankman
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin
New Line Cinema, 123 mins, 13/06/12

Synopsis: It's the 1980s, and the modern American Dream is very different to what it once was: now it means Hollywood, fortune, fame... and rock n' roll. Sherrie Christian (Hough) travels to the Sunset Strip in search of stardom, but life in the big city isn't what she expects...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheories (Spoiler Alert!)

After watching Prometheus for the second time, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what could possibly have come before the film (prequel to the prequel, perhaps?). Take these with a grain of salt, as they’re the result of a few conversations on a bus ride home, but also beware: they’re chock full of spoilers. For a spoiler-free review, see this link...

So as it turns out, the past is a lot more interesting than the future. Where will Dr Elizabeth Shaw and David’s head go from here? The ending of Prometheus made it pretty obvious. They’re off to the Engineer homeworld. Or, as one film blogger (known by the Twitter handle FilmFan1971) speculated, perhaps we’ll see a sitcom launched to the tune of Pinky and the Brain, which sees the duo having all sorts of wacky adventures around the galaxy.

But in all seriousness, it’s pretty clear-cut where Rapace and Fassbender are most likely headed. What’s less clear-cut, and thus far more intriguing, is what exactly happened to lead up to the events of Prometheus. Who are the Engineers? Why did they create the human race, only to U-turn on the whole situation and suddenly try to destroy us? And what exactly happened on LV-223?

From a little bit of deduction and a lot of guesswork, here’s what I think happened. Don’t take my word for it, but do let me know whether you agree or disagree. Could be that I’ve missed some major plot point, or there’s a gaping hole in my theories. So do let me know if you spot anything like that.

So, first and foremost, the Engineers created humanity. I believe this is what we are seeing at the very start of Prometheus. The planet quite clearly bears no similarity to that which we see later: so is it Earth? And are we witnessing an Engineer’s DNA mutating into the very first forms of life on Earth (which is to say, bacteria that will evolve into humanity, ala Darwinism)?

Anyway, the fact that the Engineers created humanity is pretty much set in stone from the DNA match. If that particular plot point turns out to be a red herring, it would eradicate any consequence of the events of Prometheus, so I can’t see that happening. But why did exactly did the Engineers create us? I can think of two reasons: first, as an experiment. As Dr Holloway remarks to David on the robot’s creation – because they could. From the holographic images seen in the main room of the Engineer spaceship, it might be inferred that not only did the Engineers create humanity, but also our entire solar system. Perhaps, then, the Engineers saw themselves as Gods?

However, a (somewhat more far-fetched) theory could be that the Engineers created humanity as a weapon. Picture it: they’re embroiled in some sort of galactic war. And these guys don’t seem to carry guns; when the last living Engineer goes berserk at the end of Prometheus, he’s defeated by that giant Facehugger. Why? Because he’s got sod all to defend himself with. So maybe the Engineers created humanity as a slave race to act as their army. Of course, for this to prove true, billions of years of evolution would have to happen in just a few years – but maybe there’s some kind of timey-wimey loophole, what with the distance between Earth and LV-223? (I don’t pretend to understand the science of it all.)

But anyway, for whatever reason, the Engineers did indeed create the humans. But then they wanted them dead. As Dr Shaw notes, this begs the question: why? My best guess is that they became so despaired with humans forever warring and blowing each other up that they realised their ‘experiment’ (see previous theory) had failed. So they brewed a strange black liquid, which is supposedly intended to have the effect that it had when Dr Holloway consumed it. Presumably, the Engineers were perhaps intending to poison the Earth’s water supply with the black liquid (again, they don’t seem to carry weapons, so this would make a suitable alternative), but the Facehuggers and Xenomorphs were an unseen side effect. Maybe from the conditions of the storage facility in which the vases were kept, which, as seen in Prometheus, was perfectly breathable and capable of supporting life.

Of course, the alternative theory here is one suggested by director Ridley Scott himself in the early days of the original script – “were the aliens designed as a form of biological warfare? Or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?” This fits nicely into the reasons for the creation of the Xenomorphs (so in this instance they were not a side effect, but the intended effect, of the black liquid – though this doesn’t explain the infection of Charlie Holloway).

As Fifield and Milburn note when they find a pile of Engineer carcasses, one of the bodies has a hole in its chest. This points to the Facehuggers doing their chestbursty thingy and turning into Xenomorphs, and then presumably eradicating the Engineers (at several points in the film we are told that whatever weapon of mass destruction the Engineers were creating, it must have at some point turned on them). So that’s the story of the Engineers over. They came to this planet to, as the Captain says, install a military outfit, but were then wiped out. Perhaps more of them exist on another planet. We’ll have to wait for Prometheus II (or whatever it will be called, what with the Prometheus having kamikazed into the Engineer ship) for that.

Which brings us to the start of Prometheus. The Engineers (at least those on LV-223) are wiped out, the Facehuggers are squirming around and, come the film’s conclusion, we see a Xenomorph. The only thing left to explain, then, is the dozens of different alien types we see. Where in Alien things were slightly more clear-cut, with simply the Facehuggers using a human host to give birth to the Xenomorphs, here we have all sorts of alien lifeforms doing all sorts of things. So how does it link up?

From my second viewing of Prometheus, I think I’ve managed to establish the evolutionary chain of the Xenomorphs. Unless I’m much mistaken (which I could easily be), it’s something along the lines of this...

  2. BLACK LIQUID gives birth to FACEHUGGERS
  4. LARGE FACEHUGGERS use human (or Engineer) host to give birth to XENOMORPH
The last part of that should sound familiar. This is all basic stuff. But there’s a few plot holes that need explaining. Millburn was clearly killed by a Facehugger: so why didn’t anything burst out of his chest? That one could easily be explained by the Facehugger being seemingly not fully developed (at least in comparison to the one seen at the film’s close, disregarding the size of the one in Alien) – and thus couldn’t produce a Xenomorph. More difficult to explain is the whole impregnation thing. And this is where I’m a bit stuck. Perhaps the chain above could be spliced to include an offshoot, whereby if an infected host (who has consumed the black liquid) consummates with another then thus results the huge bastard Facehugger we saw at the end of Prometheus.

Honestly though, that one’s stumped me - as has how a reanimated Fifield came back to attack the ship, or indeed any explanation of the star map being found across various ancient civilizations. Perhaps the Engineers periodically visited their creation (that being Earth) to make sure everything was running smoothly? (In which case it would be safe to assume that something wasn’t running smoothly the last time they visited.)

This could easily be a lot of hokum (do people still say that?). Some of it may not make sense. Leave me a comment if you agree/disagree with anything I’ve said, though. I’d love to hear any other theories. Unless you think I need to step away from the laptop and go outside for a while...

Prometheus [Review]

If you are reading this review, chances are you may not have yet seen Prometheus. If this is the case, allow me to offer you one piece of advice that should come before any other judgements I make of the film’s calibre: to heed Ridley Scott’s adamant stance that the film merely shares ‘strands of Alien DNA’. This is not Alien. This is not a remake, nor a reboot.

Is it a prequel? That depends on your point of view. I feel the answer would perhaps give away too much, so I’ll leave that to you to decide. Certainly, links are abundant between the two – but do not expect, therefore, to go into the cinema to watch Alien with a different cast. I say again: this is not Alien. Having skimmed several reviews already published, the most definitive conclusion I can garner from the majority is that they were disappointed that, yep, it wasn’t Alien. Skewed expectations will only lead to disappointment, dear readers, so before I continue with this review, I must stress that you should put aside any instinct to instantly compare Prometheus with its forecursor.

I use the term forecursor (one which I may or may not have made up) as there are, admittedly, multiple indications which would point to this being an obvious prequel right from the off - Ridley Scott’s return to his cinematic universe rewinds things by around 35 years, and strikes key parallels with his 1979 classic: here leading lady Noomi Rapace takes a 17-strong crew aboard the ship Prometheus (this won’t exactly be winning any ‘most original film title’ awards anytime soon, but then again neither would Alien) to a world of menace, thrills, mystery and, yes, horror. Sound familiar?

But, again, don’t let that taint your expectations. Let’s say you go in blind, having never seen Alien. You’d be better placed for watching this one. Can’t/don’t want to unsee the marvellously tense masterpiece that was Ridley Scott’s second foray into filmmaking? Just pretend this is a different director, different universe; different everything. If you’re simply looking for answers to the questions raised by Alien, you won’t find them all here: Prometheus does more to add to the mystery than solve it, but a touch of ambiguity isn’t amiss. Not everything needs a clear cut answer.

Which is, predictably, a theme you’d expect with such colossal questions asked as those in Prometheus. Rapace plays Dr Elizabeth Shaw, who’s managed to persuade wealthy investor Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to send her and a crew to a distant planet, in order to meet the ‘engineers’ of the human race – our creators, if you will. Of course, what she finds isn’t what she expects – to a certain degree – and things quickly turn catastrophic.

Visually, Prometheus is breathtaking. Even the 3D works: in particular, the majestic opening vistas and a storm spring to mind. As sci-fi, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking; the world is immersive, the tropes of the genre present but meticulous and smart – even if they do boil down to purely prototypical characters (here’s looking at you, Idris Elba) – and has the prerequisite touch of comedy (though Rafe Spall’s presence pushes it slightly too far). Rapace is thrust eagerly into the limelight as leading lady, and she does a wonderful job (with a sterling Brit accent), though Michael Fassbender steals it as bot David - not only from his masterful capabilities in the role, but from his character perhaps being the film's most complex (and intriguing). David's motives are not clear-cut, though could maybe boil down to curiosity; at any rate, his actions provide a few well-devised twists and turns in the screenplay.

More exemplified in Prometheus than its similarities with Alien are its differences. Where Alien was claustrophobic and cramped, Prometheus breathes in the majesty of its open spaces. Everything from the cavernous ruins of the planet which the crew have slept in cryo stasis for two years to reach, to the hallways of the very ship on which they travel, feels much more open than Ridley Scott's other cinematic venture in the Alien universe. Indeed, where Alien is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction (as described by Scott himself), Prometheus is, at heart, a true sci-fi: incurring vast landscapes, religious themes and advanced technology.

Sadly, the one particular jarring point of Prometheus is that it probably wouldn’t know how to answer itself even if it wanted to. With a 124 minute runtime, this is perfect blockbuster length: but an extra twenty minutes might have actually benefited this one. Prometheus’ plot strands are numerous, as are the characters, and thus we’re given barely any time to absorb it all. Case in point with the latter example; it’s no spoiler to tell you that a few of them along the way are going to cork it, but when they do we have little sympathy. Of the 17-strong crew, we’ll come to know maybe six or seven at best. The rest are faceless cannon fodder: something a film like this can easily do without.

All through the first 90 minutes, I could only help but feel a terrible sense of dread that the film’s conclusion could not possibly live up to or deliver on the grand themes laid out by its first two acts. And indeed, the third act pretty much leaves things back at square one, with very few answers. Prometheus’ problem is that it raises too many questions to possibly answer; instead of being self-contained, it’s opened more doors than it could possibly hope to close in one film, and as such we’re left wanting more. We don’t need all the answers, but Prometheus barely gives us any.

So where next? The aforementioned world of menace, thrills, mystery and horror of Prometheus is not the same as that visited in Alien – so in any case this is not a direct prequel, however you interpret it; instead, perhaps it’s better to think of this as The Phantom Menace to A New Hope, and so Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are still needed to fill in the gaps. Which is to say, Prometheus II and III. And personally, I can’t wait.


Dir: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, Rafe Spall, Idris Elba
20th Century Fox, 124 mins, 01/06/12

Synopsis: The year is 2093. A pair of scientists have discovered a link between ancient civilizations that leads to a certain point in space: a moon by the name of LV-223, where Dr Elizabeth Shaw and her colleague hope to find the secrets to the beginnings of life on Earth...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hobo With A Shotgun [Review]

Timeliness is out of the window tonight, ladies and gentleman: with a film now over a year old up for scrutinisation. But when that film is rollicking grindhouse brawl Hobo With A Shotgun, I expect timeliness is the last thing on people’s minds.

Rutger Hauer is the man behind the beard. You might remember him from such films as Blade Runner, Sin City and, um, Goal II: Living the Dream. Anyway, he’s acted in approximately 138 films (according to IMDB), so chances are you may have seen him in something. Suffice to say, he’s  a bloody good actor. And he doesn’t let up in Hobo With A Shotgun; a film which, you may have realised by now, does exactly as it says on the tin.

Hauer, the unnamed titular hobo hero, rolls into ‘Scum’ Town on a train and is soon bestowed with a show, courtesy of local crime kingpin Drake and his villainous sons. Within minutes both Hauer and the audience (both on and offscreen) have played witness to a decapitation. We soon move onto broken arms, shattered feet, hellish funfairs and torched buses. The violence doesn’t let up: and when our friendly neighbourhood hobo finds himself in the middle of a pawn shop robbery, he decides to take action into his own hands. His bare, merciless, shotgun-wielding hands.

Of course, there’s a bit more motivation to clean the streets than that everyone in Scum Town is a colossal fuckface. Hauer befriends a local lady of the night, Abby, in scenes reminiscent of Scorsese’s great Taxi Driver. In fact, just imagine Hauer as Travis Bickle turned up to eleven: if De Niro’s unhinged driver had indeed laid down his wrath upon more than just a few pimps in a whorehouse. Hobo With A Shotgun has a subtext, if you care to read that far into it, much in the same vein as Taxi Driver. But where the latter was a masterpiece of subtlety and character, Hobo With A Shotgun is... well, a hobo with a shotgun. Need I say more?

Indeed, the definition of grindhouse, this violent brawl through a suburban hellhole is bloody, grotesque and yet sickeningly moreish. Partly due to the cinematography – rather than a dull, murky world for Mr. Hobo to shoot the living crap out of, every colour pops with as much vividity as, well, the head of one poor victim who finds himself between two oncoming bumper cars at the funfair (I warned you it was hellish). Because yes, the villains in this really are villains (“when life gives you razor blades, make a baseball bat. And stick razor blades in it”). And don’t expect a hero to come jumping in at the last minute every time...

Brazen, ghastly and downright hilarious (one newspaper headline reads “HOBO GIVES UP BEGGING, DEMANDS CHANGE”), Hobo With A Shotgun was my introduction to the world of grindhouse. And I think I shall need none further. Take it with a pinch of salt, as it does itself, and you will be entertained. That’s a Cryteria guarantee.


Dir: Jason Eisener
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth
Whizbang Films, 86 mins, 15/07/11

Synopsis: A hobo rolls into town and decides to clean up the place. With none other than our good old friend, Mr. Shotgun...