Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)


Prometheus

I avoided spoilers as best as possible in order to wait until this came out at the Bradford IMAX, though I heard enough reaction to know that fanboys had generally been disappointed and the overall critical reaction was, at best, mixed so I didn’t go in with unrealistically high expectations.

A not-immediately-before prequel to Alien, this film kicks off with an extraterrestrial visiter to Earth engaging in some cryptic behaviour in a primordial landscape, and then picks up, in Skye, in our near future (2089) when two archaeologists find cave paintings that seem to clearly indicate that Earth was visited by aliens in our ancient past and, what’s more, they told us where they came from – an invitation to visit.

We, along with the archaeologists, then move to the spaceship Prometheus as it conducts its mission to find the source of that invitation and, when they arrive, to find out who our visitors were and why. I managed to avoid spoilers so I’ll avoid giving any here, and just discuss the film in the most general terms.

Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron are extremely good and no-one on the acterly side lets things down. Likewise, the special effects and visuals were, for the most part, terrific though the middle and long distance 3D were far more effective than near-ground, and the 3D split into component parts at the edges, and left my viewing companion with eye-strain and a headache by the end.

Much of the reaction has said that it isn’t scary enough, and this is certainly true. Some critics and other viewers have said that this doesn’t matter because the film was more thoughtful and was a film of ideas rather than thrills. I can’t agree. It might have been intended as such but there were few ideas that hadn’t already been explored in numerous films already (and the central idea is taken wholesale from the ridiculous Chariots of the Gods nonsense of Erik von Daniken), and more imaginatively, and there were very, very few suprises.

Scott has indicated that there are other cuts of this film to be released, and that some of the missing scenes would address many of the complaints about plot holes and oddities. But that is an excuse not a justification. All we can go by at the moment is the cut that has been released to cinemas and that is, unfortunately, simply underwhelming. Spectacle alone rarely makes an engrossing film.

Tabloid: Sex in Chains (Errol Morris, 2010)


Tabloid
A documentary about a notorious press case from the late 1970’s, in which a young Mormon was allegedly kidnapped and kept as a “sex slave” in Cornwall. The documentary doesn’t overtly tell us exactly what happened, since what ocurred is still disputed, instead allowing the participants tell their stories and letting us judge for ourselves though there is a definite authorial voice and I feel that there are certain conclusions we are expected to reach.

Joyce McKinney doesn’t dispute that she kidnapped Kirk Anderson, though she insists that he had been ‘brainwashed’ by his church into leaving her and that almost everything they did was completely consensual. It isn’t at all clear that she is lying about this, or that she is mistaken, though it does become more and more clear that her recollections, indeed her entire idea about her self and the way the world has treated her, are self-justifying to the degree of delusional. She certainly was picked over by the tabloids, representatives of which appear here utterly without remorse for the way they stitched up Joyce and the other participants in order to maximise the, already heady, sensationalism of the story but she gave them plenty of ammunition with which to work.

Joyce’s story takes another, really bizarre, turn which is where it becomes clear that, regardless of her sanity when these events occurred, we can be certain that it is pretty compromised now; this is both hilarious and sad, which describes many of the elements of this film throughout. It is stated many times that this was an absolutely huge story and that it was the talking point of everyone in Britain at the time. I was in my early – mid teens and don’t recall this at all – this could be failing memory or it could be confirmation bias on the part of the journalists taking part.

One thought remains – this was made before the Leveson inquiry investigating Press behaviour. If it had been made now, I wonder if the slant of the film could have remained so focussed on the events of the kidnapping and whether it was crime or love affair, or whether it would have necessarily focussed much more on the behaviour of the press in the reporting of it.

Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970)


Deep End

This film was described, somewhere – can’t quite recall where – as “a lost classic” so, when it came up on Film 4, I whacked it on record and watched it at an early opportunity. It’s certainly interesting but I’m not sure it classifies as a classic.

John Moulder Brown plays Mike, a young lad straight out of school who takes a job at a local swimming pool, doing various odd jobs and looking after clients who expect individual service. He is mentored by Susan (Jane Asher, looking unfeasibly beautiful) a slightly older woman who is very aware of her sexuality and is flexing her muscles (so to speak!) in keeping a pretty crass but wealthy fiance in order whilst also conducting an affair with Mike’s ex PE teacher, a creepy older man who seems to have an unhealthy attraction to the girls in the class he brings to the pool.

Susan is amused, at first, by Mike’s naivete and instructs him on keeping the clients happy, including some pretty low-level sexual favours for ‘ladies of a certain age’ – a not-quite-her-best Diana Dors offering him an early lesson in what is expected of him. Despite, or perhaps because of, Susan’s clear uninterest in him, and her stand-offish attitude to him, Mike has an idealised adoration of Susan and becomes obsessed with her to the point where he starts trying to interfere with her private life, since her current suitors clearly aren’t good enough for her.

The location, like the film itself, looks drab and a bit washed out, as much of the period was as I recall, and the acting is similarly muted. Asher is fantastic and everyone else is at least adequate, but there is a curiosity that the acting throughout seems overly naturalistic in that the dialogue is delivered so realistically that it sometimes appears rather stilted – as real speech is but, dramatically, it loses something. There is a feeling of doom-laden inevitability that Mike’s infatuation will not end well. That the film ended in a way I didn’t quite expect isn’t really a recommendation, since I thought the end was cursory and slightly deisappointing.

So, an interesting film and certainly worth a watch but not one to search out in the hope of an undervalued gem.

The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)


6thSense
I can’t believe there is anybody left who doesn’t already know the ‘twist’ to this movie but, I won’t give it out anyway. It’s difficult to see, watching the film for the first time already knowing what the twist is, that anybody watching it wouldn’t get it – it’s signposted throughout – but, if they did, then fairplay to the director and actors for selling it so well. I understand that Shyamalan has gathered a reputation for making absurdly bad movies but this one is nicely played, even if its premise is rather silly and some of the storytelling is of the blatently telling-not-showing variety.

We start with Bruce Willis’ character, Michael, a respected child psychologist (this is one of the clumsy exposition points), at home with his wife when an intruder breaks into the house. This intruder is one of Michael’s past patients, Vincent (Donnie Wahlberg) come to punish him for not having properly cured his problems. After a violent, traumatic episode, Michael then gets to work with another young patient, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), who has problems reminiscent of Vincent’s. Cole’s problems manifest like Vincent’s but Cole’s explanation, it transpires, is that he can “see dead people”. The film gets around half an hour in before Cole reveals this to Michael but this hardly counts as a spoiler since this was the film’s premise and its advertising tagline. Dead people constantly appear to Cole, frightening him and apparently hurting him, but everyone assumes Cole is simply morbid, disturbed and self-harming. Michael becomes obsessed with helping Cole, even if he can’t believe Cole’s story, and gives a sympathetic ear while he tries to get to the root of his problems, hoping that he can make up for his previous, spectacular, failure with Vincent but the pressure seems to be driving a wedge between him and his wife and they no longer talk.

Since we see the ghosts as Cole sees them, there is little (though not no) doubt that this is a supernatural thriller; There are numerous nice touches and there is a nicely creepy feel to the film, although with few real chills, but there are also numerous points where the plot seems laboured in order to push the ‘trick’. I wonder, if I’d seen this at the time of release, and with no knowledge of its central twist whether I’d have fallen for it and, if so, whether I’d have enjoyed it more. As it stands, I can see plausible reasons why Shyamalan’s subsequent films were less successful. Without the terrific performances from Willis and Osment, along with strong backing from Olivia Williams (always good value) and Toni Collette, this film would have collapsed under the weight of its own silliness.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)


Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve seen a couple of Anderson films, and generally really liked them, but I can understand why some people really don’t. Anderson’s world is very stylised, with central characters who epitomise the “misunderstood, loner, outsider, genius” to such a degree that, if you assume Anderson is claiming any kind of autobiography, would be arrogance and egotism of an unbearable degree. If you don’t take this position but instead take the more generous position that he is playing a bit of wish-fulfilment for outsiders everywhere, they are much more charming – particularly for those who have been, or felt themselves to be, outsiders themselves. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception, here the two runaway children at the centre of the story being the main outsiders though many of the adults seem to have been frustrated outsiders also.

The action is set on a New England island around the 1960’s just as a storm is about to hit. Sam (Jared Gilman) runs away from scout camp, where he has been bullied, and meets up with Suzy (Kara Hayward) whose parents are on the verge of splitting up, and together they run away into the forest where Sam intends to put his scouting skills to use in evading the adults when they discover that the children have run away. The scoutmaster, Ward (Ed Norton) raises the alert first and police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) tracks round the island alerting residents to look out for Sam. In the process of doing this, we discover Sharp is having an affair with Suzy’s mother Laura (Frances McDormand) and it’s while he’s waiting for her that Suzy’s disappearance is discovered – which is a relief for Sharp as Suzy’s father Walt (Bill Murray) was just questioning his presence outside their house. Sharp arranges for a search of the island and Scoutmaster Ward recruits his troop into a search party. The chase is on.

I took a little time to warm to Sam although, given the way everyone else initially reacts to him, I suspect that this is also how we’re supposed to find him. Suzy reminds me of Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass crossed with Christina Ricci in The Addams Family – the capacity for unnervingly adult seriousness combined with psychotic violence. The supporting cast, including a cameo from regular Anderson collaborator Jason Schwartzman, as well as Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel, are easily up to the task; none of them are asked to stretch themselves but it requires a certain ability and presence to create this kind of world without seeming forced.

This movie is charming and easily likeable but its general ‘niceness’ and life-affirming message that most people generally mean well might rub some people up the wrong way – it’s not exactly grittily realistic. There is a kind of sexless “Blue Lagoon” innocent first love theme that you will either accept on its own terms or, I suspect, just not care about at all. In addition, while I had no problem with one of the characters ‘stepping through the fourth wall’ to add narration, there are a couple of scenes of cartoon-comic crassness that completely break the illusion of reality and distanced me from the film and, having lost my engagement, it took a little while to get back in.

So, not a life-changing movie but a pleaant way to spend a couple of hours.