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.

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...