Friday, 29 June 2012

Die Hard (1988)

Partly because I'd not seen it in years, and partly because of Bro code #84: "A Bro shall stop whatever he's doing and watch Die Hard if it's on TV. Corollary – Also the Shawshank Redemption, Top Gun, first half of Full Metal Jacket"; I watched Die Hard on E4 the other night. I'm sure everyone is familiar with Bruce Willis as the unstoppable John McClane, and a typically evil and sneering performance from the wonderful Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, but it's worth mentioning anyway because they are both great. I generally feel that Bruce Willis is better in films where he isn't the main character (Twelve Monkeys, Pulp Fiction or Sin City) because his other films often end up being "Bruce Willis" films and he bores me; but Die Hard was before he became typecast as an action hero and so his performance is still fresh. Alan Rickman is as brilliant as ever, possibly the highlight being the look on his face as he falls to his death!

The support cast are fairly incidental: a lot of 80s metal band members as the henchmen (Karl in particular looks just like Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden) as well as cult stuntman Al Leong; and some of the usual police suspects for 80s action films, Robert Davi & Paul Gleason. Reginald VelJohnson is possibly the only other semi-principle character as Sergeant Powell, a fairly clichéd character, but fun none-the-less. He gets a nice moment at the end when he shoots Karl; again cheesy moment with cheesy music, but I did like the way that the camera focus shifted along the barrel of the gun to Powell's face.

John McTiernan proves that the quality of action in Predator was no fluke by creating another film with some excellent bone-crunching and foot-bleeding thrills. Sure, there are some silly moments and I found myself shouting at the TV, but they're all forgiveable for a less-than-serious action flick. A strong candidate for many people's favourite Christmas movie, Die Hard combines top-notch action, a solid simple story, and career defining performances from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. What's not to like? Yippee-ki-yay, mother-funster!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Metropolis (1927)

Continuing the classic Sci-Fi season at our local excellent cinema The Belmont, there was a showing of the full (so far) version of Fritz Lang’s critically acclaimed Metropolis. When a full print of the film was found in Argentina in 2008, a rescue operation was duly mounted to restore the whole film. The final version, though for the most part perfectly clear, does contain some scenes that were very grainy and one short scene which has been lost forever and so is explained by intertitles. Other than reminding the viewer that the film itself has a turbulent history, it does not detract from the spectacle at all.

What a spectacle! I was not expecting to see a film with such a grand scale, so many extras, such design and such great music. Clearly a lot of the larger backgrounds were matte paintings, but, as with A Matter of Life and Death 20 years later, they are shot in such a clever way that it works seamlessly and gives a real sense of scale to the city. There were also so many little touches that made the film so unique, memorable and elevate the film to a higher level. From the Art Deco design of the film (well it was made in the 20s), and the dance-like quality of the workers’ movements, to the idea of decimalising time! (Actually I’ve always thought that we should decimalise weeks. Longer weekends!). Actually, several of the actors’ movements are also very stylish, not just the proletariat moving synchronously as one entity.

The story revolves around Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), who runs the futuristic city of the film; and his son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), who, when he learns of the miserable life of the workers, wants to experience that life first hand and help them. While “down below” with the workers, Freder meets and falls in love with Maria (Brigitte Helm), a revered speaker who is campaigning for a peaceful end to the workers’ misery. However, Joh Fredersen hears of this and plots to incite a riot among the workers. His friend Rotwang the inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), has recently created a robot; and by transposing the likeness of Maria onto it, the “Maschinenmensch” takes Maria’s place and incites the workers to revolt. However, Joh Fredersen does not know that his son is involved.

The acting is all very good. Gustav Fröhlich is perhaps a bit over-the-top as Freder (and seems to be wearing as much make-up as Maria!), but the performances of Alfred Abel and Brigitte Helm in particular are very believable; and thinking about it now, I forget that this is a silent film. Their expressions communicate so much without over-acting, as Gustav often does. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is also very good as the crazy inventor, certainly a predecessor of Doc Emmett Brown!

Speaking of which, there were a few other moments that I thought may be inspiration for later films. The proletariat moving as one, almost dancing, reminded me of the beginning of Shaun of the Dead when people are shown going about their normal lives as zombies, moving automatically. I have mentioned how the music was great, but I felt that Joh Fredersen’s theme was very evocative of the Imperial March in Star Wars: a rousing and imposing score for the main “bad guy”. Huh, and Joh Fredersen is the father of the “hero” too! I don’t think that this score was particularly influential to John Williams as he wrote the score to Star Wars, it just reminded me of it. Of course the robot in Metropolis was the inspiration for C3PO.

I’m sure that many other more worthwhile reviewers have said all this and far more about such a classic film; I haven’t even touched on the significance of the Tower of Babel, or the main theme that “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator”. For me though I was totally engrossed; good acting, marvellous sets, brilliant music and some cool special effects. I can see why the word masterpiece is bandied around so much when talking about Metropolis.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Royal Affair (2012)

Set in mid 18th century Denmark, A Royal Affair tells the story of the illicit affair between Queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) and the personal physician to King Christian VII, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). The plot is very involved with all of the politics, power plays and intrigues one might expect of an 18th century royal court. Mathilde is an English princess, born to the Prince of Wales, and she is arranged to marry the King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). When she moves to Denmark to meet him for the first time and marry him, she finds out that he is mentally ill. Soon the Danish court decide that the King requires a personal physician, and Struensee takes on the job. The King is quite boorish towards women, and openly whores around (is that a phrase?). Mathilde is ignored, and soon becomes miserable and depressed as all she does is care for their son. As a result, it isn’t too long before Struensee and Mathilde have an affair. But when Mathilde becomes pregnant by Struensee, the liberal political freedom that Struensee has enjoyed along with the King and his wife comes to a dramatic end.

That very quick synopsis really doesn’t do the film any justice. Though based on a novel (Prinsesse af blodet), the key events are all historically accurate, and given how convoluted European history generally is, it is no mean feat to have successfully adapted the story for the big screen. It is a testament to both Nikolaj Arcel (director and screenplay), and Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay) that they were able to keep the film gripping, tense and emotionally charged. Though perhaps we should expect a high standard from the two guys who wrote the screenplay for the fantastic Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Capitalising on a great story is a cast of great actors, helmed by Mads Mikkelsen. Perfect as Johann Struensee I only really thought of Le Chiffre (the only other role I’ve seen him in) when he was being tortured! I thought he could tie his antagonist to a seatless chair and use that piece of knotted rope to great effect again! His story does not just begin and end as a doctor; he has very liberal views in a time of feudalism, and he uses his influence with the King and Queen to introduce new laws to Denmark, giving more rights to the people. Ultimately he becomes de facto regent of the country, and King Christian sarcastically refers to him as King of Prussia! Of course when the affair is uncovered, his house of cards comes crashing down, yet Mikkelsen is still commanding as the court politicians try to ruin him.

I am not at all familiar with either Mikkel Boe Følsgaard or Alicia Vikander, but both were very good as Christian the eccentric King and Mathilde. Mathilde’s story is particularly demanding; she starts as a naive princess expecting life to be wonderful as a queen only to have her assumptions crushed, then having found love finds out the hard way that she won't live happily ever after as her world falls apart. Alicia copes very well, and certainly brings realism to every facet of her character.

A very dramatic film, but one that takes its time to build the characters as well as the sumptuous world of 1700s Royal Denmark. A remarkable story and even more so for being true; engrossing and brought to life by a very good cast.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

There’s no news, like bad news.

Hardly a classic 007 adventure, and full of cliches such as a maniac principle henchman, secret villain lair and atrocious Bond kiss-off lines; yet I have always found Tomorrow Never Dies really entertaining and one of my favourites of the series. I’m not sure I’ve ever really been able to put my finger on why, so here are 5 reasons that I really like TND.

Goldeneye was the beginning of a recent trend of brilliant Bond songs, and Sheryl Crow’s entry continues that trend. Her title track is full of quiet verses and rousing choruses, as well as that unmistakable James Bond ambience. The end credits song Surrender, written by David Arnold and performed by K. D. Lang is perhaps better and is a real homage to the early Shirley Bassey tunes.

Of course Bond is all about the action, and recently has really seen a step up in scale (tank chase in Goldeneye); and with legendary stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong directing the second unit TND doesn’t disappoint. If you wanted to know what Vic looks like, here he is.

A truly explosive start to the film, I love M saying “He’s doing his job!” What? Blowing shit up? Never mind, cool job, and it does look tremendous. While the car chase around the car park is certainly impressive, there are too many stupid moments to be a really enjoyable scene. Sledge hammers don’t damage the windscreen but as soon as 007 is in the car and they start shooting at it with shotguns, the windscreen breaks? I was also very impressed that the thin metal doors to the car park were impervious to rockets! However, the motorbike chase through Saigon is all very cool. Two people driving the bike one hand each, jumping around on the bike, and jumping over a helicopter all looks amazing.

Plummy British accents:
I always love films which are overtly British, and nothing says British more than an outrageous accent. With acting talent such as Geoffrey Palmer, Julian Fellowes and Michael Byrne, plummy-ness abounds. Stealth boat Sir? They have gone mad!

Jonathan Pryce:
Ever gleeful that he is causing havoc in world politics, Carver is a Bond villain for a new age. Rather than just wanting to extort money out of a government, Elliott Carver’s end game is news broadcasting rights across the whole world, and China specifically for the purposes of the film. Jonathan Pryce is always calm, and ever so slightly smarmy, he only really completely loses his cool just as Bond slams the sea drill into his face. Jonathan’s performance is all quite understated, I feel that many other candidates for the role may have really hammed it up, but I feel that Carver is spot on. It was interesting that when we first see Carver he is often backlit, or in very subdued lighting as if initially we are not supposed to know whether he is the main villain of the piece or if he is being used by someone else.

David Arnold:
A new regular composer for the series, David Arnold’s score is most definitely Bond but has a far more modern twist to it. Whereas I hardly noticed Eric Serra’s score in Goldeneye, Arnold’s score for TND was outstanding in the way that it complements everything perfectly.

As I say, this is hardly a masterpiece of Bond, in particular it’s a shame about some of 007’s Moore-esque one liners, but I really enjoy TND. Most of all, there is a welcome return of furniture fighting, which I feel has been quite absent recently.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Sunday Scene: Oldboy

From a brutal film comes a crazy scene. What do you do with a corridor full of people and a claw hammer? Well, this I supppose!

Apparently Min-sik Choi did all his own stunts for this film, and it kinda shows in this scene. But that's one of the charms of this scene, it's not slick and stylised, it really looks as though it's a normal guy battering people with a hammer!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A Matter of Life and Death (or Stairway to Heaven in the USA) tells the story of Peter Carter, and RAF pilot in the second world war whose plane is shot down. Knowing that he’ll die anyway because the parachutes are gone, Peter has a last conversation with June, the radio operator who answers his mayday, then leaps from the plane. Something goes wrong, and he doesn’t die! Peter seizes this second chance, finds June, and they fall in love. Mistakes do occasionally happen in heaven though, and now Peter must appeal the mistake of his survival so that he may live a full loving life with June.

David Niven’s character Peter is very brave and calm. Initially he is perfectly at ease at the prospect of jumping out of a crashing plane to hasten his death; then after an initial confusion is very accepting that he must appeal to a higher authority the mistake that he’s still alive! Somehow Niven manages to convey this perfectly, and given how bizarre the concept is, I didn’t doubt his character or situation at all. Kim Hunter is good as June, the voice on the radio that Peter speaks to as his plane is crashing, and then the girl that he falls in love with after he doesn’t die. Actually the most interesting thing about Kim Hunter was seeing her face; I’ve only seen her performances behind a chimp mask in the Planet of the Apes series! It is also worth mentioning a good performance by Roger Livesey as Dr Reeves, a very “proper” doctor who completely believes Peter’s story, and ultimately acts for the defence in the appeal for Peter’s life.

All of the scene transitions are done really well. Clearly there are several matte paintings of some of the larger sets to give a sense of scale to heaven, but the imposition of live action into them as the camera was on the move was really good. Particularly striking is the black & white of heaven contrasting with the colour of the real world. I’m not sure if that is to represent everyone being pegged as either good or evil in the afterlife, but again it leads to some effective scene transitions as colour bleeds back into a shot. There is also a very ambitious behind-the-eyes shot as Peter falls asleep; the red of the eyelids bleeds out as the camera pans down to huge columns and then we notice that there are hundreds of tiny people milling about in front of the huge heavenly columns. Pretty cool, and still impresses 66 years later.

Ultimately the success of the film depends upon believable characters, so that the audience can get on board with the concept of appealing against death, and the ability to convey the afterlife with a suitable sense of scale without reverting to cliches. I think A Matter of Life and Death succeeds on both accounts. The main trio of characters are portrayed by really good actors who are all committed to the plot; additionally the vision & production of the film give a suitably mighty backdrop to the events.

                                              And she's buying the Stairway to Heaven

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

For his directorial début Rupert Sanders delivers a very dark take on the classic Snow White story. Though there is little in common with most Snow White stories, it does hit specific plot points; wicked witch (Ravenna, Charlize Theron), poisoned apple, and dwarves. Initially imprisoned by Ravenna, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes, then with the help of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) makes her way to her Uncle's castle, whereupon she returns with an army to overthrow Ravenna's cruel rule.

First of all I must say that the film looks fantastic. The costumes are all fantastic, down to the little details on Ravenna's dresses; there are many beautiful exterior locations giving the film a real epic feel; and some of the visual effects were amazing. In particular the dark army at the beginning of the movie is brilliantly realised, the way Ravenna exploded into Ravens is great, a cool troll, and the dwarves were amazing.

Where the film falls flat is in some of the cast, namely Kristen Stewart; she just doesn't have the charisma to pull off a main role like this. She is wooden and just looks uncomfortable for most of the film, not least when she gives her morale-rousing speech for the army - Theoden this is not! Actually half way through the film I found myself thinking "Has she actually really said very much?" Charlize Theron is a good actress, and her Ravenna is good; though having seen Eva Green's performance as Morgan in Camelot, I thought that she would have been a much better Ravenna. The other main character is Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, and thank goodness for him; he is the one character we really care about. His Huntsman is gritty, initially of questionable loyalty, and has great wilderness survival skills; so Aragorn basically. To continue the LOTR theme, I noticed that Snow White seemed to have the Tree of Gondor on her shield! The supporting cast are fine, including Sam Spruell as Ravenna's brother Finn and Vincent Regan as Snow White's Uncle, Duke Hammond. The Dwarves are also good, the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost having their faces digitally imposed onto small actors.

An entertaining romp that looks amazing, and far enough removed from the classic fairy tale for miserable uncultured people like me to enjoy it. Going for it are some sumptuous visuals, a tremendous scale of production and a rousing score by James Newton Howard; against it are a few below par performances, especially from Kristen Stewart who just isn't right for this kind of role.

Oldboy (2003)

A brutal revenge film from Korean director Chan-wook Park, Oldboy combines mystery, tension, brutal violence, grim cover-your-eyes moments and black humour. Husband and father Dae-su Oh is kidnapped and mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years in what looks like a dirty hotel room, only to be released without warning and explanation. Framed for the murder of his wife and daughter while he was imprisoned he has no-where to go with his new-found freedom. Taken in by Sushi chef Mi-do, he finds out that he has only 5 days to understand why he was imprisoned.

Oldboy is very inventive, it takes the revenge movie and really turns in on its head; I really didn't know what was going to happen next. Chan-wook Park is constantly using the camera in different ways to keep the story fresh and interesting; angles to fool the audience into thinking one thing then revealing another, filming reflections in mirrors several times, and a wonderful single tracking shot that consists of some brutal and funny action. Min-sik Choi is great as the tortured Dae-su Oh, combining a haunted performance with a desperation for revenge, and then just plain desperation when he realises the truth. Ji-tae Yu is fine as the main antagonist Woo-jin Lee, but far more fun is the henchman Mr Han played by Byeong-ok Kim.

A fantastic revenge film that is as brutal as it is stunning. Inventive, surprising and completely unpredictable.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Planets of Apes

All sorts of planets and all sorts of apes (actually only one planet really). Having borrowed the box set of the original series ages ago, we finally got round to watching them, so here are my thoughts. Needless to say there are some spoilers, but I shouldn't assume that everyone knows about them, because until I saw the original last year I didn't know about the twist at the end! So, grab a banana, here we go.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans

Reasons to watch: Very interesting story, very much a study of human behaviour by placing humans as the dumb animals while the apes are more intelligent. Excellent performance by Charlton Heston as Talyor; despite playing an arrogant character, you can't help but side with him hoping he triumphs against injustice. Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and Maurice Evans all manage to convey plenty of emotion from under their costumes.

Technically, there is thoughtful use of the camera when telling the story and some beautiful cinematography, particularly near the beginning. The music sometimes has a lot to be desired, Jerry Goldsmith's score is sometimes very random and full of clashing when nothing much is happening. Overall a great film well deserving of its classic status.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Director: Ted Post
Starring: Charlton Heston, James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans

Reasons to watch: Beats me! Obviously cashing in on the success of the first film, this continues immediately from POTA but then Charlton Heston's character disappears into a rock when he tries to hit it! It is then up to James Franciscus' character who was on a rescue mission from Earth to be chased around by gorillas. After the great story of the first film, this is essentially a chase movie, and as such is not interesting at all. The acting is wooden, the direction is hardly there, and there are some excellent polystyrene New York landmarks underground.

Worst of all is the climax of the film involving some humanoids without faces, who wear rubber masks, can control people with their mind and worship a nuclear bomb! No explanation. Rubbish; utter rubbish. If you ever wanted to see all of the POTA series, I would recommend reading the synopsis for this one on IMDB and skipping the film. The very end is kind of important for the following film, but otherwise forget about it!

Rating: 1 out of 5

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Director: Don Taylor
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Ricardo Montalban

Reasons to watch: Interesting story, great reactions from the humans upon discovering the intelligence of Zira and Cornelius (Kim Hunter's and Roddy McDowall's chimp characters), and again an investigation of human nature but the spotlight directly on modern humanity now. Whereas in POTA the audience is completely behind Taylor, this time it is Zira and Cornelius who have our total support as they try to be accepted by our society (actually specifically by the military and the government - everyone else seems to accept them).

My main criticism would be that the ending is quite rushed, with a run-time of only 98 minutes, another 10 minutes to expand some of the issues towards the end would, I think, have been welcome. However surprised I was that Beneath the Planet of the Apes warranted a follow-up, I was far more surprised by how much I enjoyed "Escape", easily the second best film in the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray

Reasons to watch: Before there was Rise of the Planet of the Apes there was Conquest, and it is interesting to watch human society fall apart. Good performances by Roddy McDowall as Caesar, Ricardo Montalban reprising and embellishing his role from "Escape", and Don Murray as Govenor Breck. However, no matter how good the idea for the film is, the execution is very sloppy.

It really didn't make sense that humans, having learned from from Zira and Cornelius in "Escape" that the apes would become the dominant force on the planet, now employ apes to do almost all menial tasks; from cleaning streets to waiting tables, to running errands. Also the behaviour control of the apes was silly. For example, rather than teach a few apes how to mop a floor, one guy would quickly show about 50 and then get annoyed when they didn't do it properly! Great concept, but poorly realised.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Battle for Planet of the Apes (1973)

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins,

Reasons to watch: Another good performance from Roddy McDowall as Caesar, as he tries to keep the peace between the humans who work for them and the gorillas who form the military. Caesar takes a trip into the infected zone to find a recording of his parents and comes across a group of surviving humans. Unfortunately the humans decide that they should follow Caesar back to their village and try to wipe them out. Certainly the best part of the film is the dynamic between the different classes of apes, as Caesar tries to rule in an equal opportunities kind of way. This all goes to pot when he finds out that Aldo, the gorilla leader, has killed his son.

A fairly explosive conclusion to the series, not a classic and some of the action is fairly run-of-the-mill, but a very interesting climax none-the-less.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Sunday Scene: Moon

Having watched Moon a couple of times this week in preparation for starting up a Google+ live hangout, I thought that it would be appropriate to subject the film to the Sunday Scene treatment. I think the hangout went well, apart from a couple of technical hitches, and hopefully I might be able to include some more people next time. Anyway, on with the scene, which will contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen Moon, go and see it first!

My favourite scene is quite a short one, but the moment half-way through the film where Sam fights with his clone is very pivotal to the film. It marks the point where "New" Sam starts to work together with "Old" Sam; instead of largely ignoring him "New" Sam is now more interested in finding out the truth. As a result of the fight "Old" Sam is easily injured, and it is from this point that he really starts to fall apart as we begin to understand that the 3 year contract is simply the life span of a clone.

Of course the other feature that makes this my favourite scene is the fact that the viewer never doubts that Sam Rockwell is fighting himself! Through some very clever shooting and editing, using doubles and a bit of CG face replacement, the whole fight, though short, is utterly convincing. Of course part of the trick is the actor's ability to sell it, and Sam Rockwell's performance, as it is throughout the film, is fantastic. Like I say, quite a short scene, but perfectly executed and a pivotal moment in the film.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheus (2012)

30 years after Ridley Scott changed cinema with his terrifying and brilliant film that started a phenomenon, he returns to the franchise to answer some questions and raise new ones. Set towards the end of this century the events precede those in Alien, and follow the scientific crew of the spaceship Prometheus as they set out to discover the origins of humanity.

The film is stunning; from the slick design of the Prometheus, the terrifying size of the dust storm, the creepy caverns, to the bots that map the caverns and Charlize Theron’s outfit. Ridley Scott’s visual style goes from strength to strength, and with today’s technology is as beautiful as it ever was. Linked with this style is the tremendous quality of the production; production designer Arthur Max has worked exclusively with Ridley Scott and David Fincher and clearly doesn’t pull his punches. The cinematography is also beautiful, the lighting of the Prometheus, the gloomy caves and the stunning aerial sweeps of the icelandic scenery at the beginning; it actually reminded me a lot of the beginning of The Shining.

The cast are mostly brilliant; Charlize Theron plays it very cool as Meredith Vickers, the captain of the Prometheus who views this expedition as a mission and nothing else; Idris Elba is groovy as Janek, the pilot of the Prometheus; but certainly the stars of the show are Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. Rapace is brilliant as Elizabeth Shaw, the scientist who helped discover the Engineers’ (the alien race are referred to as Engineers) code in archaeological digs around the world. Initially on the mission as more of a consulting scientist, it soon becomes clear that Shaw is the one making the important decisions, and with the personality to drive the rest of the crew and the plot forwards. I don’t think Scott could have found a better actress currently working to carry on the mantle of Ripley. Fassbender is equally fantastic; having just finished watching 300 (because, you know, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours), he really is an adaptable actor! As David he has exactly the right stage presence for the role; he is slightly aloof, dogmatically believes that all his actions are correct, yet there is always the feeling that he has an alterior motive. Generally he steals every scene he’s in, and those when he acts opposite Rapace are the best.

I suppose that I was expecting a film with more traditional Alien canon. On the one hand I was disappointed that it wasn’t that film, but on the other I’m glad it wasn’t! If the life cycle of the aliens had been exactly as all four previous Alien films, I think Prometheus may have come across as too stale and unimaginative, so for that it’s great. Of course I loved seeing more background to the Space Jockey from Alien, though there are still some unanswered questions.

I’ve read a few reviews, and many people seem to be complaining about plot holes. Now I agree that there are a few parts where there is no explanation and a little would have been nice; but on the whole, the people complaining about plot holes are simply complaining about daft things that happen in any Sci-fi film. Spoilers! Yes it was silly that Vickers ran immediately away from the crashing ship instead of ducking to the side, but that’s hardly the first time that’s ever happened in a film! Yes it’s silly that Shaw is extremely active for one who has just undergone invasive surgery, but that’s hardly new; Operas were doing that a hundred years ago as people who were dying of tuberculosis were singing their hearts out! Spoilers end. I watched Alien very soon after (the wife didn’t know that the Engineers were the Space Jockey from Alien, in fact she couldn’t remember the Space Jockey at all), and I’m glad we did because there are as many “plot holes” as people are calling them in Alien, they just get ignored because it is such a damn fine film. When Dallas is in the air ducts and Lambert tells him the Alien is on the move towards him, he sits in a junction where the Alien could come at him from all angles! Dumbass! Toward the end when Ripley is alone and has just set the auto-destruct, she is on the way back to the escape shuttle when she comes across the Alien. She is terrified and runs back to try and reverse the auto-destruct. Why? She’s holding a flame thrower. Torch the fucker! See, no Sci-fi is immune from silly plot points. So ends my defence of Prometheus.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent film. Stunning, superbly acted, exceptionally made and truly terrifying at points. Fabulous to see some background to the crashed spaceship on LV426, and it raises as many questions as it answers. This was the one film that I was really looking forward to this year (as well as the Hobbit naturally), and it didn’t disappoint. Now, having written this, I really want to see it again.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Sunday Scene: Alien Resurrection

Not one of my favourite films by any stretch, but as I have been watching a lot of Aliens recently in the run up to Prometheus (seeing it on Wednesday!), and having already done Alien and Aliens scenes, I thought that this seemed appropriate. There are not many great or memorable scenes in Resurrection, but the one that both is visually stunning and makes me shudder is the underwater sequence.

I'm perhaps marginally claustrophobic and I'm certainly not a good swimmer, so the thought of having to dive underwater and not be able to rise easily to the surface really creeps me out; the underwater sequence here then is proper terrifying! Having said that, it looks really beautiful; the light used is very diffuse and gives the sequence a very alien luminescence. This was simply achieved by pouring milk into the water to soften the light, but the result looks really good.

The whole cast spent four weeks shooting this scene and had to rely absolutely on the surrounding crew to give them oxygen in between takes; as, just like the scene, the set was closed and so they couldn't just rise to the surface to get air. This is also true for the poor guy who had to be underwater dressed in an Alien suit!

The final horrible piece of the scene is when an alien grabs Hillard by the foot and drags her away. Terribly simple, but it makes me shudder every time! I'm not a fan of this film in any way really, but this scene is quite impressive in both how it was made and the end product; beautiful yet terrifying.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Layer Cake (2004)

I saw Layer Cake for the first time years ago, and I'd forgotten how cool and slick it was. X-men: First Class and Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn combines smart camera angles, long steady-cam sequences and very clever editing along with some brutal violence to create a visually striking and very clever film. The plot zips along at a goodly pace, and while it is not as convoluted as some of Guy Ritchie's gangster film, it has enough revelations and twists along the way to maintain the pace.

Another way to make this a really cool film, is to cast Daniel Craig as the leading character XXXX. Here he is effortlessly cool, always calm, and always wearing amazing clobber; I can't help but think that Barbara Broccoli et al saw him in Layer Cake and thought "That's the next 007". Surrounding Craig is a cast that can more than hold their own; Michael Gambon as crime boss Eddie Temple, Tom Hardy as one of XXXX's associates, George Harris, Colm Meaney, and an unrecognisable Sally Hawkins as a drugged-up girlfriend.

A very entertaining film from rising star director Matthew Vaughn. Clearly those days spent producing Lock, Stock & Snatch had a great impact on him, as Layer Cake is his take on the gangster heist; and as a director's debut film he really hit the ground running. Excellent cast, clever use of the camera, smart plot, some brutal violence and all topped with some lovely moments of black humour. I haven't seen Kick Ass yet, but now I'm very keen to.