Coming Soon: a haunted house

from Summit Entertainment

Ethan Hawke plays a novelist looking to write a great novel. He and his family can't afford to keep their old house, and so they move into another, cheaper one... one with a bloody history. Things go downhill. The trailer looks good, and so it's here. It piqued my interest, as it features Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio.


Alien 5 (a.k.a. the first film)

A dying trillionaire sends a space mission to explore the possibility of meeting humanity's parent race on a distant, newly discovered planet. There are tunnels, shadows, slimy things, dupicitousness, and a big giant face. Hilarity, as ever, ensues on LV-223.

"Prometheus" (2012)
directed by Ridley Scott
written by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts
starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce

How it is?
I have to come right out with it. The visuals are amazing, but they can't cover up the problems with the script. (My inner scifi fanboy really hated to say that about "Prometheus", but there it is.)

The Players
At the top there are Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba. Fassbender as the Weyland Corporation's premiere android model, David, steals the show. His is a touching and simultaneously sympathetic and casually menacing performance as the android who seems maybe to want to be human... or at least equal, more than a servant. Theron's portrayal of Vickers, the Corporation's no-nonsense executive representative on board the Prometheus, is spot on and arcs well over the course of the film. Idris Elba as Janek, the captain of the Prometheus, is as close to an everyman as the we get in the film, and his performance as the good captain brings a practical, grounded humanity to the film that is missing for the most part in other main characters.

At the other end of the spectrum there are Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, but it's not necessarily a matter of lacking performances but rather cardboard characters as written. Rapace's character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, was the lynchpin of the whole mission, her theory of an extraterrestially seeded Earth. The theory was more interesting than the character, and the character seemed to be sort of another attempt at bringing scifi and movie fans another Ellen Ripley. Rapace/Shaw simply didn't get enough traction, what with everything else going on in the film. Marshall-Green's character, Shaw's love interest, Charlie Holloway, wasn't substantial enough a character for him to be much more than cardboard. That's not a fault of either and everything to do with the script. And then there's Guy Pearce as Weyland Corporation's aged namesake, Peter Weyland. Pearce manages well with the character through a lot of prosthetic makeup, although Weyland's presence is relatively slight, in both screen time and story contribution.

Behind the Camera
At the top there is Ridley Scott. He is an astonishing film director. With Dariusz Wolski (cinematographer) and Arthur Max (production designer) he made an amazing visual follow-up/prequel to the rest of the Alien franchise. The attention to detail, every little thing practical and digital, was as is his career reputation suggests, mightily impressive. The film moves along at a fair clip the whole way through, with appropriate rising and falling action so the audience gets neither exhausted or lost. Well, mostly neither. The kicker for the film is the writing is where it doesn't quite hold up.

At the other end of things, there are there's the writing. In a nutshell, Prometheus is either a bit overcomplicated or a bit shoddily written. The skeleton of the story is simple enough and intriguing. There were just too many layers added, for whatever reasons, by screenwriters Spaiht and Lindelof, and rather than an interesting ensemble of characters, each with contributions to make, there were a few interesting characters and some other ones thrown in because story formula demanded it. It just never really gels. (Gosh, my inner fanboy is reeling at this.) The writing simply doesn't measure up to Scott's direction and visual scale or what anyone was expecting, really, and that's a real shame.

The Verdict
Prometheus seemed to be more about asking questions than about characters being confronted by those questions and acting accordingly, which is what weakens it. It felt like a conflicted film, a strong visual sense that wanted to show things and get across ideas and a script that didn't know how to stage or explain them effectively so it tended to play with what were sometimes rather obvious tropes. I am notoriously unforgiving of what I believe to be slack or poor or substandard writing, especially from people who ought to know better, and Spaight and Lindelof's script is a decidedly average at best, and the rest of the film can't escape from it.

Due to the strength of the performances by Fassbender, Theron, and Elba and the combined expert visual and technical machinations of Scott and the production crew, the film still comes in looking better than average. It's just that it feels awfully forced in places, trying to cover over the things that really don't really work but were kept in anyway. Alas, the film couldn't live up to the hype.


an original web series premiered today on YouTube

"No Fourth Wall" 
(Episode 1)

"No Fourth Wall" is an original web series about three guys (seen above) who are working on starting what they hope to be a hit web series. It's dryly funny, which is always a plus for me, and well-paced. The episodes are going to be short. Episode 1 comes in at 7:14, and that's including credits on both sides and bloopers after the end credits. Go give it a look-see.


A Lonely Guy, Two Dead Women, and Three Guys and a Video Camera (It's not what you think.)

"The Woman in Black" (2012)
Technically well executed film, competently directed. Good story but average script. The film is quite atmospheric, gloomy, and visually delicious, but its shocks and scares were by and large stock and predictable and so not really shocking or scary. Excellent performances by the cast, Ciaran Hinds in particular, emphasize the gloom and mystery of the story, but oddly, the story itself didn't hang together well, especially with the ending that disappointingly didn't match the rest of the film. The 1983 book and the 1993 BBC radio drama are much more frightening and tightly written. Average.

"Chronicle" (2012)
Finally we have a 'found footage' movie that fires on all cylinders. It concentrates on telling a simple, good story very well. The characters are interesting and have reasonable arcs, and the script is generally quite tight. The cast is excellent, and the special effects are used to help in telling the story and not just there for spectacle. They are spectacular, however. It all comes together to make "Chronicle" much, much better than average. It's more than a science fiction special effects fiesta. It's a very interesting "What if?" story about human nature. Highly recommended.


The Thursday List: My Shelf Edition (Pt 4)

The Blues Brothers (1980)
As far as I know, this is the first movie to be made exclusively as a vehicle for cast members of Saturday Night Live, and it's the best one. In fact, it's one of the best, most fun comedies of the 1980s. It's got music, an off-the-wall but very dry sense of humor, and quite possibly one of the top three car chases in cinema history. It hits all right notes and deserves its status as a film classic.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Out of all of the films that have been made only about six hundred have been selected to be inducted into the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. This is one of those films. Filmed on location and brilliantly directed and acted, it's engaging on various levels all the way through, and it's production quality is top-notch. It's a must-have for any cinephile's collection.

Casino Royale (1967)
Before Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, and George Lazenby there was... David Niven. And Peter Sellers... Ursula Andress... Barbara Bouchet, Joanna Pettet, Terence Cooper, and Daliah Lavi -- all as James Bond 007... in the same film. Film historian said it was a "film of momentary vision, collaboration, adaptation, pastiche, and accident. It is the anti-auteur work of all time, a film shaped by the very zeitgeist it took on." In a nutshell: It was a lovably absurd, psychadelic parody of itself. It had multiple directors, several uncredited star cameos, an unusual number of script versions, a legendary feud, and eventually stood upon its release as one of the most expensive films ever made. It's amazing it was ever completed, and it's beautiful to see and lots of fun. Again, a classic.