Reviews

A couple weeks ago, I got invited to a private screening of Justice League by some people I hope very much to be doing business with. I had no interest in the movie, but I went to schmooze. My overall response was… *shrug*

Justice League is nowhere near the level of utter comical unwatchability achieved by Batman v Superman, but it’s still not good. Wonder Woman, for it’s faults, is a much stronger film. Sadly, in JL, all they gave Gal Gadot to do was be Superman until Superman shows up.

Predictably, with two different directors, the movie is a stylistic hot mess. I’ve never seen such a schizophrenic film in my life. The stuff shot by Snyder looks NOTHING like the stuff done by Whedon (which is the majority of the movie).

The biggest problem is the characters. If you love the classic comic characters, these folks ain’t them. And if you love the characters in BvS (first of all, SHAME on you), you won’t be happy, either. These are the kid-friendly versions of Zack Snyder’s mass-murdering “heroes.”

A lot of people really enjoy Ezra Miller’s Flash; I found him incredibly annoying. He’s played as very young and immature and very spectrum-y in a way I HATED, even though it’s supposed to be charming. Cyborg is a pointless Iron Man clone who acts mostly as tech support and air evac.

Aquaman truly IS Super Bro! It’s like they gave powers to one of the guys from Jersey Shore. I kept expecting him to shout “GTL!” An entire film of this character is gonna be really hard to swallow.

Batman exists solely to make dire predictions, crack jokes (Hey! Batman is FUNNY!) and shoot things from his vehicles. Also, Affleck plainly had stopped giving a shit by the re-shoots; he’s like Harrison Ford in Return of the Jedi.

Wonder Woman is the plot exposition version of Sigourney Weaver’s Galaxy Quest crewmember. She just repeats things other people say so the audience gets it.

Of course the plot makes no sense. Doesn’t even try. The last half hour is just like the last 45 minutes of Man of Steel. It’s mindless action with no point whatsoever, and the resolution is both pointless and kinda dull.

That’s the thing that really surprised me. Overall, this movie is boring. Even at just over two hours, it drags, particularly in the middle.

Here’s the thing; as much as I loathe Zack Snyder’s murderverse (and I really, really do), Man of Steel and even moreso, Batman v Superman, are films of vision. Zack made choices. Setting aside for a moment that every one of those choices is laughably, disastrously wrong and ill-advised, he made them and then committedJustice League is a film of no choices whatsoever. It’s a corporate casserole cooked to be as bland as possible while selling the maximum number of toys.

The best part for me was getting to meet one of the cast members who was at the screening (not sayin’ who). I shook his hand and told him I admired his work. He nodded over his shoulder at the screen and said, “Not in this!”

Is it a terrible film? By no means. It’s just a superhero movie put together by committee. It’s loud and full of slow-mo and soulless and dumb. 8-year-olds will LOVE it.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and deservedly so. To my eye, this is Nolan’s most deeply flawed film since his unfortunate remake of the brilliant Swedish film, Insomnia.

I’ll admit that I was more stung by my own disappointment, than I was by any actual problems with the film. My expectations for Nolan are always unrealistically high. The problem is, often he meets, or even exceeds them.  So even though it was utterly unfair of me to go in expecting the mind-altering originality of Inception, I did… and the experience was hollow.

That being said, I actually don’t think it’s possible to create something truly original anymore. Maybe I’ve become a post-modernist, but I usually see a film through the prism of all the other films it’s owes its pedigree too. Usually, I don’t much hold it against them; there are only so many plot structures available to writers (between 7 and 36, depending on how detailed you want to get), so duplication is inevitable.

But Interstellar has its roots sunk so deep in the soil of so many other movies, it’s really tough to ignore. Yes, there are the obvious comparisons to 2001, and I feel like the filmmakers acknowledge this by keying off each act with the chord from Also Sprach Zarathustra. But let’s also acknowledge the debts owed to 2010, ContactSolarisSunshineAI, and even Idiocracy.

You read that right. Think about the world Cooper’s rock-stupid farmer son grew up to be Casey Affleck in; a world with very few people of education beyond crop rotation and pulling corn out of the ground, and then imagine a non-comedy version of Mike Judge’s terrifyingly-apt future vision. Then again, given the recent mid-term elections, how could anyone not assume the morons were running America?

A lot of criticism has been leveled at the plot, which I actually didn’t have a problem with. The science is speculative, and stretches what we know (or think we know) about relativity, quantum physics, and string theory, but it actually makes perfect sense within its own framework. That’s not saying it isn’t clunky and ham-fisted; it is. But it does  follow its own logic. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Matthew McConaughey did.

I suppose I can forgive a Brit for thinking every American pilot is a good-old-boy like Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff, but I think someone might have told Nolan it was a bad idea to cast a guy far more suited to farming than spaceflight as a would-be space jockey who hated farming. Once MM got off-world, he became the least-believable special effect in the film.

Lastly, I want to take a few lashes at something everyone else has praised, which is that the film is “gorgeous” and “technically brilliant.” Yes, the FX are absolutely flawless, but regarding the photography, I have to say I miss Wally Pfister. Hoyte Van Hoytema has shot some great-looking films, including Let the Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but replacing the inimitable Wally Pfister as Nolan’s DP, one can’t help but think he was too busy audition for his next job, shooting Bond 24, because Interstellar looks like the work of someone who’s trying too hard.

I became aware of the photography, the chosen “look” for each segment of the film, too many times. Photography, like editing, should be seamless. It should enhance, without being self-aware. Pfister’s work is unambiguous, and yet subtle. Van Hoytema is anything but, and Interstellar needed all the subtlety it could get.

 

This film is generating a lot of controversy among the geeks, so here’s my take: I would love to see the three-hour cut. And I’ll guarantee you there is one.

Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction has made a lot of people angry, and the reason is simple. Just like Alien was a horror movie disguised as science fiction, Prometheus isn’t a film; it’s a dialectic examination of the nature of being and man’s relationship with god disguised as a monster movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually succeed on both levels. While it’s great to argue about and deconstruct (I could write a book about the underlying themes and symbolism of this movie, and I’m sure others will), it isn’t really all that entertaining to watch, and that’s the real issue.

Before I join in with the crowd gazing into Ridley’s navel to figure out what it means, let me talk about the movie itself. It almost goes without saying that Prometheus is gorgeous, since there are very few Ridley Scott movies that aren’t. My big issue was that the film felt rushed. I believe this might be Scott’s shortest film, and for a director who routinely turns in 3-hour movies (my god, American Gangster is 157 minutes, and it’s a total pile of shit), that seems strange. Plainly, there was a lot more story to be told, and I would have like to have seen it.

As for the plot (again, holding off on what it means), it’s just too simple, and too derivative. In it’s day, Alien was as original as Psycho or Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars. We had literally never seen anything like it. Prometheus owes tangible, recognizable debts to so many sources, it’s tough to name them all. From 2001 to Rendezvous With Rama to classic Dr. Who (more than one person has caught on that the basic plot bears a startling resemblance to a Jon Pertwee story called The Daemons, which has a godlike alien and a character named Elizabeth Shaw; cute one, Lindelof).

The parallel I can’t escape is to Jack Kirby’s Celestials as they appeared in Marvel comics. The Celestials were spaceborn gods who traveled the universe seeding life onto various planets, and they were directly responsible for the development of human life on Earth. Every thousand years or so, the Celestials would return to judge their creation. If it was found to have gone astray, they would wipe out all life and begin anew. At one point, humanity was to be destroyed, and Thor intervened to save us.

But that being said, there are a hundred other references you could draw from and still get here. Curiously, the one film Prometheus seems loathe to really reference is Alien. Apart from the derelict ship designs that have been carried over, and the original egg chamber storyline that was cut from Alien during pre-production and resurrected here, this simply doesn’t feel like the same universe. If anything, it feels (egads) more like the universe from Alien: Resurrection. That’s a bad thing.

There are too many characters for the 2-hour runtime. I don’t know them or care enough about them to be concerned with what happens. And I was so busy thinking about the plot that I kind of forgot about the movie. Monsters? Eh. Fancy star-map graphics (why would you crib anything from Star Trek: Generations?) Meh. But the underlying themes? Ahhh, I’ll be arguing about this stuff over dinner for years, and that’s what will give this film a shelf life.

I’m not going to exhaust both of us by flogging the various mythological symbologies the film is rife with; This guy Cavalorn does a great job of laying a lot of that out, and I thing he’s pretty close with the plot as well.

Overall, there’s a lot of really subtle stuff going on under the surface, and it’s the kind of thing that may or may not have a deeper meaning in the minds of the filmmakers. Here’s what we know: The Engineers have sacrificed themselves to create life on several planets. Over the millennia, they have guided the development of that life, leaving a handful very abstract clues as to their existence and location (Contact, anyone? Explorers, maybe?) for their “children” to follow.

In the case of humanity, around the time of the crucifiction and the birth of Christianity, we did something as a species that caused the Engineers to decide we needed to be wiped out. They loaded up a ship with the weaponized version of their life-creating black oil (X-Files, anyone? Maybe Genesis from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan?) with the plan of sending it to Earth, but something goes wrong. The weapon backfires and all but one of the Engineers on the moon die. Our humans arrive to pick up the pieces, and chaos ensues. Naturally, the last Engineer is less than happy to find himself infested with humans, and he gets angry. Elizabeth (I swear, will Noomi Rapace only play characters named Elizabeth?) survives and flies off to meet the Engineers on their home turf (don’t forget, there’s another film coming in this series; Ion).

So what does it mean? If you check the link above, you’ll see quotes from Ridley Scott verifying that it was something to do with the crucifiction that set off the Engineers. It’s possible that Jesus was their genetically modified ambassador, and the Romans and Senet stringing him up didn’t sit well. Whatever the case, it’s not relevant. Here’s where I begin to differ in opinion from my friend Cavalorn…

First off, I don’t think the puzzle left on cave walls and prehistoric art all over Earth is an invitation. It’s a test. That’s why it leads to a planet filled with weaponized black gunk rather than the Engineers home planet. “Show up here, be smart enough NOT to get killed, and we will talk to you.” This is why we get the snake versions of the xenomorph guarding the chamber; this is Eden. Don’t touch the apples.

FYI, we touched them.

My friend Rob Burnett has a big problem with the giant head in the canister chamber. I don’t. Again, to me, this is meant to be a godlike place for the primitives to visit. The mural is a warning. The head is god watching over you. I don’t think we can argue that the Engineers were without ego.

As for what happened to the Engineers on LV-223, there are a number of possibilities, all of them completely plausible. It’s possible that one of the other seeded planets accepted the invitation, and the xenomorphs came along with them by accident in worm form. It’s possible that the Engineers unknowingly tracked them back from some planet they had visited. It’s possible that the oil mutated into that form, but I don’t think any of that is true.

I think the answer is obvious; it’s different oil.

It kind of surprised me that people assumed the oil had to be the same stuff from the beginning. The mural on the ceiling plainly shows an Engineer touching a xenomorph (check it out big) so they knew what the oil did. Applying Occam’s Razor, I think it’s simply an incredibly effective adaptive weapon that got away from them, and LV-223 is their Chernobyl. Think about it; why else would the Engineer’s derelict in Alien be sending out a warning (which Shaw’s warning V.O. at the end of Prometheus is meant to echo) to stay away?

Also, the drop of oil given to Holloway begins to transform him in the same way it transformed Fifield. With the myriad of technologies, chemicals and drugs at our disposal in our own society, why assume that the black gunk at the beginning is the same black gunk we see later? Obviously, the Engineer whose head gets taken back to the ship was reacting to an infection with the weaponized oil, hence the explosion.

I do think Cavalorn is onto something with the importance of the soul as a concept in the movie. This is why we don’t see the xenomorphs chasing and killing the Engineers in the hologram; the tech doesn’t see them as “alive” because they have no souls. When it’s pointed out that David has no soul, it’s the set-up for the Engineer’s reaction to the humans on his bridge. Notice, he first tries to ignore them until they demand his attention. Then, he is accosted by David, and he is disappointed at his “children’s” attempt at creating life on their own. Humanity is a failed experiment. It has to go.

I could go on and on, as I said, but I think arguments against the plot and motivations of the Engineers are pointless. There are so many points in human history where we cannot discern the motives of the people living then… Stonehenge… the Nazca lines… Newgrange… the world is full of neolithic artifacts we can’t fathom, and those were built by us. How the hell are we supposed to clearly grasp the motives of aliens who died thousands of years ago? That wouldn’t make sense.

At its core, Prometheus is a cautionary tale against hubris. The Engineers, the biologist, Peter Weyland, even David and Shaw; everyone pays for their hubris in the end. Ridley Scott’s hubris is apparent onscreen. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, we pay for it.

——————————————————————————————————

The last time I checked, Cavalorn’s blog was down. I’ve pasted the cached copy here, so you can navel-gaze further if you like.

 

Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About

This blogpost contains many and frequent spoilers for Prometheus, so if you’re planning on seeing it, I recommend you don’t spoil yourself.Prometheus contains such a huge amount of mythic resonance that it effectively obscures a more conventional plot. I’d like to draw your attention to the use of motifs and callbacks in the film that not only enrich it, but offer possible hints as to what was going on in otherwise confusing scenes.Let’s begin with the eponymous titan himself, Prometheus. He was a wise and benevolent entity who created mankind in the first place, forming the first humans from clay. The Gods were more or less okay with that, until Prometheus gave them fire. This was a big no-no, as fire was supposed to be the exclusive property of the Gods. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a rock and condemned to have his liver ripped out and eaten every day by an eagle. (His liver magically grew back, in case you were wondering.)Fix that image in your mind, please: the giver of life, with his abdomen torn open. We’ll be coming back to it many times in the course of this article.

The ethos of the titan Prometheus is one of willing and necessary sacrifice for life’s sake. That’s a pattern we see replicated throughout the ancient world. J G Frazer wrote his lengthy anthropological study, The Golden Bough, around the idea of the Dying God – a lifegiver who voluntarily dies for the sake of the people. It was incumbent upon the King to die at the right and proper time, because that was what heaven demanded, and fertility would not ensue if he did not do his royal duty of dying.

Now, consider the opening sequence of Prometheus. We fly over a spectacular vista, which may or may not be primordial Earth. According to Ridley Scott, it doesn’t matter. A lone Engineer at the top of a waterfall goes through a strange ritual, drinking from a cup of black goo that causes his body to disintegrate into the building blocks of life. We see the fragments of his body falling into the river, twirling and spiralling into DNA helices.

Ridley Scott has this to say about the scene: ‘That could be a planet anywhere. All he’s doing is acting as a gardener in space. And the plant life, in fact, is the disintegration of himself. If you parallel that idea with other sacrificial elements in history – which are clearly illustrated with the Mayans and the Incas – he would live for one year as a prince, and at the end of that year, he would be taken and donated to the gods in hopes of improving what might happen next year, be it with crops or weather, etcetera.’

Can we find a God in human history who creates plant life through his own death, and who is associated with a river? It’s not difficult to find several, but the most obvious candidate is Osiris, the epitome of all the Frazerian ‘Dying Gods’.

And we wouldn’t be amiss in seeing the first of the movie’s many Christian allegories in this scene, either. The Engineer removes his cloak before the ceremony, and hesitates before drinking the cupful of genetic solvent; he may well have been thinking ‘If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me.’

So, we know something about the Engineers, a founding principle laid down in the very first scene: acceptance of death, up to and including self-sacrifice, is right and proper in the creation of life. Prometheus, Osiris, John Barleycorn, and of course the Jesus of Christianity are all supposed to embody this same principle. It is held up as one of the most enduring human concepts of what it means to be ‘good’.

Seen in this light, the perplexing obscurity of the rest of the film yields to an examination of the interwoven themes of sacrifice, creation, and preservation of life. We also discover, through hints, exactly what the nature of the clash between the Engineers and humanity entailed.

The crew of the Prometheus discover an ancient chamber, presided over by a brooding solemn face, in which urns of the same black substance are kept. A mural on the wall presents an image which, if you did as I asked earlier on, you will recognise instantly: the lifegiver with his abdomen torn open. Go and look at it here to refresh your memory. Note the serenity on the Engineer’s face here.

And there’s another mural there, one which shows a familiar xenomorph-like figure. This is the Destroyer who mirrors the Creator, I think – the avatar of supremely selfish life, devouring and destroying others purely to preserve itself. As Ash puts it: ‘a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality.’

Through Shaw and Holloway’s investigations, we learn that the Engineers not only created human life, they supervised our development. (How else are we to explain the numerous images of Engineers in primitive art, complete with star diagram showing us the way to find them?) We have to assume, then, that for a good few hundred thousand years, they were pretty happy with us. They could have destroyed us at any time, but instead, they effectively invited us over; the big pointy finger seems to be saying ‘Hey, guys, when you’re grown up enough to develop space travel, come see us.’ Until something changed, something which not only messed up our relationship with them but caused their installation on LV-223 to be almost entirely wiped out.

From the Engineers’ perspective, so long as humans retained that notion of self-sacrifice as central, we weren’t entirely beyond redemption. But we went and screwed it all up, and the film hints at when, if not why: the Engineers at the base died two thousand years ago. That suggests that the event that turned them against us and led to the huge piles of dead Engineers lying about was one and the same event. We did something very, very bad, and somehow the consequences of that dreadful act accompanied the Engineers back to LV-223 and massacred them.

If you have uneasy suspicions about what ‘a bad thing approximately 2,000 years ago’ might be, then let me reassure you that you are right. An astonishing excerpt from the Movies.com interview with Ridley Scott:

Movies.com: We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

Ridley Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it.” Guess what? They crucified him.

Yeah. The reason the Engineers don’t like us any more is that they made us a Space Jesus, and we broke him. Reader, that’s not me pulling wild ideas out of my arse. That’s RIDLEY SCOTT.

So, imagine poor crucified Jesus, a fresh spear wound in his side. Oh, hey, there’s the ‘lifegiver with his abdomen torn open’ motif again. That’s three times now: Prometheus, Engineer mural, Jesus Christ. And I don’t think I have to mention the ‘sacrifice in the interest of giving life’ bit again, do I? Everyone on the same page? Good.

So how did our (in the context of the film) terrible murderous act of crucifixion end up wiping out all but one of the Engineers back on LV-223? Presumably through the black slime, which evidently models its behaviour on the user’s mental state. Create unselfishly, accepting self-destruction as the cost, and the black stuff engenders fertile life. But expose the potent black slimy stuff to the thoughts and emotions of flawed humanity, and ‘the sleep of reason produces monsters’. We never see the threat that the Engineers were fleeing from, we never see them killed other than accidentally (decapitation by door), and we see no remaining trace of whatever killed them. Either it left a long time ago, or it reverted to inert black slime, waiting for a human mind to reactivate it.

The black slime reacts to the nature and intent of the being that wields it, and the humans in the film didn’t even know that they WERE wielding it. That’s why it remained completely inert in David’s presence, and why he needed a human proxy in order to use the stuff to create anything. The black goo could read no emotion or intent from him, because he was an android.

Shaw’s comment when the urn chamber is entered – ‘we’ve changed the atmosphere in the room’ – is deceptively informative. The psychic atmosphere has changed, because humans – tainted, Space Jesus-killing humans – are present. The slime begins to engender new life, drawing not from a self-sacrificing Engineer but from human hunger for knowledge, for more life, for more everything. Little wonder, then, that it takes serpent-like form. The symbolism of a corrupting serpent, turning men into beasts, is pretty unmistakeable.

Refusal to accept death is anathema to the Engineers. Right from the first scene, we learned their code of willing self-sacrifice in accord with a greater purpose. When the severed Engineer head is temporarily brought back to life, its expression registers horror and disgust. Cinemagoers are confused when the head explodes, because it’s not clear why it should have done so. Perhaps the Engineer wanted to die again, to undo the tainted human agenda of new life without sacrifice.

But some humans do act in ways the Engineers might have grudgingly admired. Take Holloway, Shaw’s lover, who impregnates her barren womb with his black slime riddled semen before realising he is being transformed into something Other. Unlike the hapless geologist and botanist left behind in the chamber, who only want to stay alive, Holloway willingly embraces death. He all but invites Meredith Vickers to kill him, and it’s surely significant that she does so using fire, the other gift Prometheus gave to man besides his life.

The ‘Caesarean’ scene is central to the film’s themes of creation, sacrifice, and giving life. Shaw has discovered she’s pregnant with something non-human and sets the autodoc to slice it out of her. She lies there screaming, a gaping wound in her stomach, while her tentacled alien child thrashes and squeals in the clamp above her and OH HEY IT’S THE LIFEGIVER WITH HER ABDOMEN TORN OPEN. How many times has that image come up now? Four, I make it. (We’re not done yet.)

And she doesn’t kill it. And she calls the procedure a ‘caesarean’ instead of an ‘abortion’.

(I’m not even going to begin to explore the pro-choice versus forced birth implications of that scene. I don’t think they’re clear, and I’m not entirely comfortable doing so. Let’s just say that her unwanted offspring turning out to be her salvation is possibly problematic from a feminist standpoint and leave it there for now.)

Here’s where the Christian allegories really come through. The day of this strange birth just happens to be Christmas Day. And this is a ‘virgin birth’ of sorts, although a dark and twisted one, because Shaw couldn’t possibly be pregnant. And Shaw’s the crucifix-wearing Christian of the crew. We may well ask, echoing Yeats: what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards LV-223 to be born?

Consider the scene where David tells Shaw that she’s pregnant, and tell me that’s not a riff on the Annunciation. The calm, graciously angelic android delivering the news, the pious mother who insists she can’t possibly be pregnant, the wry declaration that it’s no ordinary child… yeah, we’ve seen this before.

‘And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

A barren woman called Elizabeth, made pregnant by ‘God’? Subtle, Ridley.

Anyway. If it weren’t already clear enough that the central theme of the film is ‘I suffer and die so that others may live’ versus ‘you suffer and die so that I may live’ writ extremely large, Meredith Vickers helpfully spells it out:

‘A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable.’

Vickers is not just speaking out of personal frustration here, though that’s obviously one level of it. She wants her father out of the way, so she can finally come in to her inheritance. It’s insult enough that Weyland describes the android David as ‘the closest thing I have to a son’, as if only a male heir was of any worth; his obstinate refusal to accept death is a slap in her face.

Weyland, preserved by his wealth and the technology it can buy, has lived far, far longer than his rightful time. A ghoulish, wizened creature who looks neither old nor young, he reminds me of Slough Feg, the decaying tyrant from the Slaine series in British comic 2000AD. In Slaine, an ancient (and by now familiar to you, dear reader, or so I would hope) Celtic law decrees that the King has to be ritually and willingly sacrificed at the end of his appointed time, for the good of the land and the people. Slough Feg refused to die, and became a rotting horror, the embodiment of evil.

The image of the sorcerer who refuses to accept rightful death is fundamental: it even forms a part of some occult philosophy. In Crowley’s system, the magician who refuses to accept the bitter cup of Babalon and undergo dissolution of his individual ego in the Great Sea (remember that opening scene?) becomes an ossified, corrupted entity called a ‘Black Brother’ who can create no new life, and lives on as a sterile, emasculated husk.

With all this in mind, we can better understand the climactic scene in which the withered Weyland confronts the last surviving Engineer. See it from the Engineer’s perspective. Two thousand years ago, humanity not only murdered the Engineers’ emissary, it infected the Engineers’ life-creating fluid with its own tainted selfish nature, creating monsters. And now, after so long, here humanity is, presumptuously accepting a long-overdue invitation, and even reawakening (and corrupting all over again) the life fluid.

And who has humanity chosen to represent them? A self-centred, self-satisfied narcissist who revels in his own artificially extended life, who speaks through the medium of a merely mechanical offspring. Humanity couldn’t have chosen a worse ambassador.

It’s hardly surprising that the Engineer reacts with contempt and disgust, ripping David’s head off and battering Weyland to death with it. The subtext is bitter and ironic: you caused us to die at the hands of our own creation, so I am going to kill you with YOUR own creation, albeit in a crude and bludgeoning way.

The only way to save humanity is through self-sacrifice, and this is exactly what the captain (and his two oddly complacent co-pilots) opt to do. They crash the Prometheus into the Engineer’s ship, giving up their lives in order to save others. Their willing self-sacrifice stands alongside Holloway’s and the Engineer’s from the opening sequence; by now, the film has racked up no less than five self-sacrificing gestures (six if we consider the exploding Engineer head).

Meredith Vickers, of course, has no interest in self-sacrifice. Like her father, she wants to keep herself alive, and so she ejects and lands on the planet’s surface. With the surviving cast now down to Vickers and Shaw, we witness Vickers’s rather silly death as the Engineer ship rolls over and crushes her, due to a sudden inability on her part to run sideways. Perhaps that’s the point; perhaps the film is saying her view is blinkered, and ultimately that kills her. But I doubt it. Sometimes a daft death is just a daft death.

Finally, in the squidgy ending scenes of the film, the wrathful Engineer conveniently meets its death at the tentacles of Shaw’s alien child, now somehow grown huge. But it’s not just a death; there’s obscene life being created here, too. The (in the Engineers’ eyes) horrific human impulse to sacrifice others in order to survive has taken on flesh. The Engineer’s body bursts open – blah blah lifegiver blah blah abdomen ripped apart hey we’re up to five now – and the proto-Alien that emerges is the very image of the creature from the mural.

On the face of it, it seems absurd to suggest that the genesis of the Alien xenomorph ultimately lies in the grotesque human act of crucifying the Space Jockeys’ emissary to Israel in four B.C., but that’s what Ridley Scott proposes. It seems equally insane to propose that Prometheus is fundamentally about the clash between acceptance of death as a condition of creating/sustaining life versus clinging on to life at the expense of others, but the repeated, insistent use of motifs and themes bears this out.

As a closing point, let me draw your attention to a very different strand of symbolism that runs through Prometheus: the British science fiction show Doctor Who. In the 1970s episode ‘The Daemons’, an ancient mound is opened up, leading to an encounter with a gigantic being who proves to be an alien responsible for having guided mankind’s development, and who now views mankind as a failed experiment that must be destroyed. The Engineers are seen tootling on flutes, in exactly the same way that the second Doctor does. The Third Doctor had an companion whose name was Liz Shaw, the same name as the protagonist of Prometheus. As with anything else in the film, it could all be coincidental; but knowing Ridley Scott, it doesn’t seem very likely.

I haven’t posted any film reviews since my 2011 roundup, so let’s talk about the last two I saw.

The Avengers

I admit I had my misgivings about this as soon as they attached Joss Whedon. I know his fans love him, but I’m sorry; he’s a lightweight. Serenity. Buffy. Dollhouse. The screenplay for Alien Resurrection. Whedon has demonstrated again and again that his “skill” seems to be in making the “serious” elements of any story subject to the whims of his humor. Apparently, he would rather have a collection of characters with interchangeable voices delivering snappy one-liners than spend the effort to build any real emotional connection with the audience.

Avengers feels exactly the same. All the other Marvel films, even the horrible Incredible Hulk, had a sense of gravitas. The characters had arcs, and the story felt like thre was a real threat. Other than Tom Hiddleston as Loki, no one in Avengers has anything even remotely like an arc. I just didn’t care… and, I would argue, neither did the actors. Everyone seemed to be phoning it in, or maybe that’s just a side-effect of Whedon’s directing style. Everyone in Firefly seemed to be phoning it in, and that was the best job most of those actors ever had.

I also felt that Avengers looked bad. The entire was film was flat, and looked very much like a TV movie. I partly blame Whedon, who has a very television-oriented aesthetic, and I partly blame the DP, Seamus McGarvey, who has never shot anything (I’ve seen) that didn’t look like a TV movie.

Was Avengers horrible? Of course not. Some of the action sequences even manage to be exciting. But it certainly doesn’t live up to its hype.

Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, is sheer fucking brilliance.

Full disclosure; I’m a hardcore Wes Anderson fan. The Darjeeling Limited, which is far and away his weakest movie, is still one that I really enjoy (many don’t). I would fuck The Royal Tenenbaums if I could. I really wish I could get the 22-minute version of his hysterical American Express commercial on blu-ray. So, what I’m saying is I might not be the most unbiased judge; obviously, Anderson’s films hit a button with me.

That being said, I think Moonrise Kingdom is every bit the equal of Tenenbaums, and for me, that’s a huge compliment. Yes, it is a return to the classic Wes Anderson form; the color palette is unreal, the scenes unfold like vignettes from a play, and the characters are all a strange mix of the real and the fantastical, but it works seamlessly. This is a smart, funny, downright eclectic film with a sweet, charming ingenuous tone that is impossible not to love.

Yup. Sweet. Charming. And I loved it. If anything, Moonrise Kingdom is less like Tenenbaums than it is the answer to it. It isn’t cynical or black or bleak in any way, and yet it never turns to treacle. I don’t want to fuck Moonrise Kingdom, I want to spoon with it as we fall asleep, and that is every bit as good.

Welcome back.

That was more to myself than to you. I’ve been holding off on my end-of-the-year wrap-up thing because I’ve been fighting a ferociously infected index finger, and it makes typing and adventure. I’ve also been taking the time to ruminate, and make a battle plan, which goes thusly; I’m going to post series of smaller blogs focused on various elements from 2011, like work, relationships, etc.

Will each one be its own short story? Probably. But this will keep them from becoming a single, full novel. So there’s that.

To kick things off in my normal, light, fluffy, incredibly acerbic tone, I thought I’d start with movies. To me, this wasn’t a great year for film. At this sitting, I haven’t seen a few things I really wanted to like Dangerous Method, J.Edgar, Ides of March… but that being said, I’ve only been truly impressed by two films this year.

This isn’t everything I saw this year, but it’s everything I had something to say about. It also helps that the Oscar nominations came out, so I can bitch about Contagion, my favorite film of the year, getting the big middle finger. War Horse? Really?

Okay, okay…

The Mechanic

This wasn’t spectacular by any means, and it had a bullshit Hollywood ending tacked on, but for a remake of a really tight, well done Charles Bronson film, it’s surprisingly unshitty.

Adjustment Bureau

This, on the other hand, was incredibly shitty. Pointless, frustrating, and built on a plot that makes no fucking sense whatsoever. Hollywood has had some egregious magical negro movies, but never one where the MN in question was literally the only black guy in the film.

Rango

Wow. Yeah. I have to give Rango credit; it’s a helluva lot more than a movie about a CG-animated lizard version of Johnny Depp’s Duke character. If Gabriel Garcia Marquez had written this screenplay, it couldn’t have had more magical realism. I can’t say I actually liked it – in fact, I don’t know what I thought if it – but any movie that delivers its deus ex machina in an actual machine (in this case, a golf cart) embodied by the spirit-form of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” deserves a modicum of respect.

Battle: Los Angeles

Every bit as stupid and pointless as everyone says it is.

Paul

Simon Pegg should be ashamed of himself.

Attack the Block

People raved about this movie as if it were the hope and savior of modern genre film. It isn’t. A story about a completely indistinct pack of underage refugees from a Guy Ritchie film fend off a handful of alien attackers who come after them in the block of London council flats.

Unfortunately, there are too many characters, too many dead spots and too many lapses in logic. It also wasn’t lost on me that, once you know what the aliens are after, they actually have the moral high ground.

This is a well-done, entertaining movie, but contrary to fanboy opinion, it doesn’t transcend its genre trappings.

Sucker Punch

Finally, everyone else was able to see what I’d been saying about Snyder all along; he’s an emotionally and sexually retarded 14-year-old boy.

Source Code

When you just can’t get enough of a train blowing up. Duncan Jones, director of Moon, hit his sophomore slump hard with this one.

Hanna

It isn’t sarcasm to say this is the best adolescent female killing machine movie I’ve ever seen. Smart, tight, and (except for the slightly Hollywood ending), really well done. Looks amazing with pacing to match the visuals.

Killer Elite

It takes balls to remake an utterly obscure 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie. It takes even bigger balls to not only set the movie in 1980, but to shoot it as to look like a 1980 film in every way. Like The Mechanic, this is far from great, but it’s a creditable attempt.

Thor

I never would have believed that I would see a big-screen adaptation of my favorite comic from my youth. I would have had an ever harder time believing I’d get one that was actually good. Is Thor perfect? No, but it’s everything King Lear-cum-superhero film should be in the hands of a director like Kenneth Branah; it’s brash, loud, full of sound and fury and spectacle. Yes, the town was ridiculously tiny and shy of inhabitants, and yes, Natalie Portman seems to have been rendered incapable of real emotion at the hands of George Lucas, but I still thought Thor was a blast.

X-Men: First Class

After the abortions that were X-Men: Last Stand and Wolverine, I never thought we’d see an even half-decent superhero flick from Fox, much less a solidly excellent one. First Class is a James Bond film with mutants, and it does a better job with the characters than I could have hoped. Yeah, the women all kind of stink (I call it Sin City syndrome, except the women in that movie were cast because they’re hot… these girls… notsomuch), and Kevin Bacon was an odd casting choice, but the movie is great.

Captain America

The best Marvel Comics superhero flick ever. Joe Johnston, who has been a hack for his entire career, pulls it out to make Cap such a great, involving ride I might have to take back some of the awful things I’ve said about him. From the design to the Easter eggs (the original Human Torch, for fuck’s sake!) to the alterations made to help this film fit in as the “grandfather” of the celluloid Marvel universe, Captain America is spot on.

Green Lantern

A glowing green pointless pile of tedious garbage.

Super 8

JJ Abrams does Spielberg better than Spielberg has in years. Much as I dislike the guy (don’t get me started on Dawson’s Trek), I enjoyed this a lot, though a cleaner emotional through-line for the Cloverfield monster’s uncle at the end would have been helpful.

Cowboys & Aliens

The director’s cut is… less bad… but this will never be a good movie.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Except for James Franco, who is so painful to watch I just can’t stop cringing, this was an excellent attempt to wipe all previous Apes sequels from the public consciousness.

Contagion

The. Best. Movie. Of. The. Year. Without exception, without reservation. Contagion is smart, serious, brilliantly shot and acted, and scary as hell. A fantastically real take on the near end of the world.

Drive

I’m so tired of fighting this battle. Was Drive a good film? Except for the retarded falling-in-love section that gave me Attack of the Clones flashbacks (skipping stones in the river? Really?), yes, it undeniably is. Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston are both great. Ryan Gosling is… well, vacant, which is what he does so well. But I can’t forget or forgive that Drive is also a beat-for-beat rip-off of Michael Mann’s far superior Thief. Even the title treatment is the same. The only difference is the opening, and Gosling’s character… which are lifted directly from Wlater Hill’s The Driver. If you’re a fan of Refn’s “modern-day noir,” take a look at either of these originals and you’ll see what I mean.

Thing

I hated this movie as much as I love Carpenter’s original.

Three Musketeers

I hated this even more. My friends John & Brusta drug me to this shitfest, and I still haven’t forgiven them. From the ridiculous performances to the moment when the screenwriters just threw out the laws of physics en toto, this is a deeply awful film.

Margin Call

Wall Street for our times, only all the way ’round better. Because, y’know, Oliver Stone is a fucking hack. If you don’t believe that, check out his Wall Street for our times, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Ugh.

Rum Diary

Jonny Depp continues his love affair with Duke, but in a more linear, but less entertaining, Hunter S. Thompson adaptation.

Anonymous

When the director of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow decides to make a movie about Shakespeare, you know you’re in trouble. At least the effects were good.

Hugo

Incredibly pretty and mildly dull, Scorcese obviously wanted an excuse to get the lovingly restored A Trip to the Moon in front of audiences. He should have just made a straight biopic of Georges Melies.

Shame

I was so much less impressed with this than many critics, because I am not gay and am not in love with Michael Fassbender. Slow, ponders, pouty and incredibly self-absorbed, this movie has no characters, and no structure. Director Steve McQueen seems to have forgotten to have things happen.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The second movie that impressed me this year. I’m a huge fan of the original British miniseries, but this is actually tighter, and manages to leave nothing of substance out in only half the time. A fantastic films.

MI4

Yes, I saw this primarily to see the Dark Knight Rises prologue in IMAX, but the fact is, Mission Impossible 4 is like a really stupid, really hot blonde you just want to fuck; dumb as a bottle of dirt, but a lot of fun for a few hours. Thank god for Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner, who voice most of the audience’s “bullshit” moments aloud, saving them the trouble.

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I love David Fincher; or rather, I used to. Lately, our romance has run cold. I’m not a huge fan of The Social Network, and I greatly preferred the original Swedish version of Dragon Tattoo, particularly the extended cut. It’s brilliant, and Fincher’s is… well… flat. And Rooney Mara is an unfit comparison to Noomi apace in the same way a Beetle is an unfit comparison to a Bentley, even though they’re made by the same company.

Young Adult

This is an incredibly polarizing movie, and I consider that a good thing. I love Jason Reitman, and Up in the Air is one of my favorite films. He and Diablo Cody have painted a portrait of a truly awful woman, and then had the guts to not redeem her in the audience’s eyes by the end. This movie is bold and shameless.

The Descendants

I’m not quite sure what all the hoopla is about this film. Is it a drama? A comedy? Is the moment at the end when Clooney decides not to sell an apotheosis, or just fear of change? I honestly don’t know. And what’s with the narration at the beginning that vanishes after the first twenty minutes? The hell is that? This felt like a movie that was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

So that’s it for the 2011 movies. I’ll be back shortly with a wrap-up of my career, such as it was, in 2011.


Subscribe to the Tango

Get an email whenever I blather.

Archives

Posts by Category

Posts by Date

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

From Twitter

Random Quote

When you start to live outside yourself, it’s all dangerous. — Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden