REVIEW: Prometheus

Prometheus
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts (screenplay)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender

Shortly after making his break into the film industry Ridley Scott came across a film titled Star Wars that would rouse him to make Alien, an iconic, genre-defining sci-fi film of his own. Thirty years passed while Scott ventured into mastering other genres—his only other trip to the future being Blade Runner— until he saw another revolutionary sci-fi film that inspired him to take on the genre once again: Avatar.

Three years and dimensions later we have Prometheus, one of the most immersive and gleaming 3D sagas since Cameron’s Avatar set the bar (it’s a fun fact to note that Cameron’s breakout film was Aliens, the sequel to Scott’s original). In what will continue to be feverously debated as his prequel to Alien, Scott pools talents and ideas from various great modern sci-fi to amass an intense, hardwired summer blunder that doesn’t take itself serious enough at times to become as classic as it should.

Prometheus takes place in 2089, a few decades before Alien, when archeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall-Green) discover prehistoric wall paintings that suggest an interaction between early civilizations and other worldly life. Left with a hieroglyphic road map to outer space, they are joined by a J.J. Abrams rag tag team with bad accents and poor judgment, a sinisterly adorable robot named David (Fassbender) and the heir (Theron) to the Weyland Corporation that funded the trillion-dollar exploration to seek answers to the universe’s greatest question: how did we get here?

In a genre where everyone seems to be taking influences from everyone (including themselves), Prometheus proves itself a pioneer in atmosphere, aesthetic and marvel while other elements like pathos and consistency weigh down its potential. But that’s not to say Prometheus is by any means a weak film.

Exploring themes of creationism, religion and humanity give the creature feature purpose and prose, but it never lives up to the intensity created technically in the film.

Much of the blame for the film’s lackluster script goes to its co-author Damon Lindelof, who penned and produced similar cryptic mythologies and philosophical puzzles brilliantly on TV’s Lost. Just like the show, the film is interested in posing grand questions and answering each with two more questions— it’s deep and clever without ever being intelligent. Luckily the visuals and acting hide the audible cheese uttered by “first to die” team used to pander to universal audiences.

The script wants to have fun, but it’s at its best when it’s not. Its highlights include its most intense moments and gore. Rapace, Theron and Fassbender all make an undeniably all-star cast of expert focus plunging in and out of Scott’s beautifully crafted set pieces that never leave you at ease. And while we may not have gotten the answers we wanted, we’ll just have to enjoy the film for what it is now and wait for what the future may behold… sequels.

Grade: B-

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REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (novels)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace and Jared Harris

Almost nothing goes right in the second installment of Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes, but it’s at least consistent.  His insistence on style over substance is so heavy-handed that it’s hard to see how exactly Robert Downey Jr. can overact, and yet they both find a way to coexist.

As we hop around Europe at the end of the 19th century, Ritchie throws slow motion action sequences at us as Holmes (Downey Jr.) plans them out in his head, and then repeats roughly the same thing when he actually does them.  This kind of overly-stylized repetition shows just how little creativity was brought to the table for this sequel.  Holmes is allegedly facing his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), yet much of their battle of the wits contains as many explosions as a Michael Bay movie.

In between the frantically edited action sequences is a conspiracy plot to start a war so that Moriarty can sell both sides weapons.  Harris brings some welcome menace to the role, but the script, written by Michele and Kieran Mulroney, has this feeble-looking academic fist-fighting with Robert Downey Jr. by the movie’s end.

The grey-tinted European streets are chock-full of atmosphere for the characters to fight in, at least.  As with the first Holmes, the scenery, costumes and music belong in a much better movie.  Downey Jr. manages to deliver his rapid-fire take on the world’s greatest detective and still look bored, and Jude Law as his assistant/bromantic relationship Watson did far more with his one scene in Hugo.

Hopping around Europe with the happy couple is the gypsy Serza Heron (Noomi Rapace), who is there to find out what Moriarty has done with her brother.  Rapace injected what little life there was in the Swedish film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Here, like in the first Holmes, many of Ritchie’s other films and Hollywood studio releases in general, she is the female character that mostly sits and listens.  She gets a couple of good punches in, which is more than can be said of Watson’s new bride (Kelly Reilly), who does little more than bat her eyelashes and be offended at nudity.

That bare bottom she winces at belongs to Stephen Fry, who plays Holmes’ brother Mycroft.  Fry is the most authentic British presence in the movie, and adds a few welcome sardonic digs.  Had the movie included him for reasons other than to offend the lady, it would have at least been more bearable.

Game of Shadows is Downey Jr.’s show, though, no matter how little he or anyone else wants to actually be here.  He moves from disguise to disguise, building little on the character from the first movie and wearily avoiding the homoerotic tension that Rapace was called in to detract from.

Some of the scenes do connect in spite of the lackluster whole, though.  There’s a slow motion escape from a German prison that would’ve been dead-on had Ritchie stopped frantically toying around with the speed.  In addition to that, a sequence in Paris where Holmes is tricked by Moriarty into thinking a bomb has been planted on a stage production of Don Giovanni when it is actually in a hotel across town also stands out.  As Holmes hides under a stage prop, he finds a King piece from a chess board, and sees Moriarty’s sinister glare looking at him from a private box.

Moriarty is a villain that is described by Holmes as doing evil simply because he is capable of it.  The Dark Knight was a movie with a villain like that, and in 2008 it reached heights in quality that few imagined a big studio could still reach.  In the end, Game of Shadows‘ greatest asset is a new trailer for the next movie in that Batman series.

Grade: D

REVIEW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
Written by: Nikolaj Arcel & Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay), Sieg Larsson (novel)
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Peter Haber, and Sven-Bertil Taube

No matter how many times it happens, it is always a disappointment when a movie adapted from a book doesn’t live up to its source material.  It happens too often, usually because it’s trying to please the fans or just doesn’t translate well as a movie.  Neither of these are the problem with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it’s that the wrong things were cut and not enough was condensed from the 600 page novel to keep a film viewer engaged.

For all of its narrative bumps, the chief success of this movie is capturing the grotesque and demented sense of discovery you get reading Stieg Larsson’s best-seller.  It follows Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced Swedish journalist who leaves his self-financed magazine Millennium to help it survive his blighted reputation.  He is contacted by Henrik Vanger, an aging business tycoon  looking to tie up his loose ends.  He wants Blomkvist to help solve the 40 year old murder of his niece Harriet.  Blomkvist retreats to the island where the murder takes place, and where all the bitter Vanger family/suspects still reside.  Aided by the hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace),  Blomkvist embarks on a treacherous investigation that puts them on the tail of a serial killer that may or may not have killed Harriet.

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