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Film Bloggery

So, since I last did one of these I’ve watched Prometheus (which got a whole blog entry all to itself), Kick Ass, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Alien.

I’d forgotten how good Kick Ass is. It was one of those films that came out of the blue, was irreverent, funny, wince-inducing and knowing without being smug, predictable or shambolic. It holds up well to repeat viewings and it was fun to note how quickly Chloe Moretz has grown up since the film was made.

I’d been looking forward to Martha Marcy May Marlene since missing it when it was on theatrical release, and I wasn’t disappointed. Very indie in feel, it has a superb central performance from Elizabeth Olson as Martha and explores ideas of cultism, abuse, family and broken relationships. It was creepy, chilling and heartbreaking in equal measure and I would very much recommend you see it without knowing too much more about it than that.

I watched Alien when we got home from watching Prometheus and it really brought home how astonishing Alien was and is. The design still looks astonishingly timeless, with the possible exception of the haircuts (although if I’d been in space that long I think I’d have a 70s style beard and barnet too), and the film is a stripped-down masterclass in tension and horror. The spaceship feels like a real environment – something I particularly noted this time was the oily scrape as the hatches in the air conditioning ducts were opened and closed – and the characters are built up carefully for the first hour of the film before anything really happens, making the impact when things do start to happen much greater. Prometheus was a bit too sterile, too un-real, too futuristic to convince in the way the Nostromo and its crew do. If you haven’t watched it recently, I highly recommend that you treat yourself and do so.

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So, the Lovely Janine and I went to see Ridley Scott’s eagerly-awaited Prometheus over the bank holiday and I felt the need to write about it. Before I start though, I’d better just say I am a sci-fi lover but not any kind of expert or authority*. This is just my personal reaction to, and thoughts about, the film. I won’t bother explaining the plot, you can find details of that in plenty of places should you want them.

Firstly I should say that I liked it and that I liked it quite a lot. It’s worth seeing in the cinema, although I can’t see what 3D might bring to it, so go and see it in 2D. The following is also worth getting out of the way – it’s not perfect, it’s not Alien and it’s not the best film of the year so far.

Right then…

It’s nice to see someone having a stab at making a proper, ‘hard’ sci-fi film. It deals in big ideas and with difficult questions and it does so with plenty of action and intrigue, all the while looking amazing. When you look back over the sci-fi from the past few years (Duncan Jones’s Moon aside), it’s not inspiring stuff – lots of dumb comic book sci-fi like Transformers and Battleships, dreary, pompous nonsense like John Carter of Mars and light, “don’t-think-to-hard-or-it-falls-apart” eye-candy like In Time or The Adjustment Bureau. So, simply in terms of ambition, Prometheus is a breath of fresh air, especially from a big-budget, a-list, eagerly anticipated film like this.

It’s also beautiful to look at, well-acted, skilfully edited, nicely paced and links in well with the existing Alien universe (there are numerous nice little nods to the original film and the associated mythology). Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace are all excellent in their respective roles. For the first hour and a bit and for the last 20 minutes of the I was engrossed, immersed and involved.

So, what was it that left me feeling a little disappointed? I think it might be that it falls between two ideal end results. Either they should have aimed for a stripped-out action film a bit like Aliens, or made it a bit longer, lost some of the action, cranked up the tension, alienated the teenage Friday-nighters and piled on the high-brow, thinky stuff. Either way, they should have halved the number of characters, giving the remaining ones like Rafe Spall and Sean Harris’s scientists and the under-used, oddly accented Idris Elba’s ship’s captain more to do and say. There’s a section of about 20 minutes when the film goes into freefall, all pointless gun battles and running-and-shouting bits that don’t really make sense or move the narrative on. Oh, and shut up with the fucking incidental music too, it’s sometimes nice to have no music at all for more than a few seconds.

Funnily enough, I think that even though I told myself not to expect too much, not to compare it to Alien and not to pay attention to the hype, I think that’s what I did. I wanted it to be perfect and I wanted it to be the best film of the year so far – it is neither.

So, it reached for the stars and fell a bit short… at least it tried though. I’d rather see something ambitious but flawed than something safe but dull. I just hope the next in this series of prequels can do better and live up to the promises made by this first installment.

* I prefer the Steven Soderbergh version of Solaris to the Russian original, and I still haven’t got around to watching Metropolis!

So, in the last 7 days I have watched the following films – Haywire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, (Marvel) Avengers (Assemble), Iron Man and The Raid.

Haywire was pretty good, with Gina Carano providing a solid physical core to the movie while a selection of decent thesps (Michael Fassbender, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton and Antonio Banderas) did the acting bit. The reason for the stellar cast in what is essentially an action b-movie? Steven Soderbergh. His close, hand-held direction gave the film real crunch and it was stripped down, effective and quite a lot of fun.

I am re-watching the Millenium films in their full length, 2-part, Swedish TV versions on Bluray. The third part – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – is the least cinematic, mostly taking place as it does in hospital and then in court. The televisual nature of the original version actually works much better than the edited down cinema release and the story is given time to breathe without feeling rushed. Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth Salander is still the one to beat.

Having heard so much about The Avengers (Marvel Avengers Assemble is a rubbish title), and being a Joss Whedon fan already, I experienced a mix of excitement and apprehension as the film started. We’d decided to see it in the Directors Lounge at the Showcase De Lux, to minimise the chance of the film being ruined by the popcorn-munching masses. I’m pleased to say the film delivered on every level, even the ‘robots-hitting-each-other’ action was tempered by repeatedly bringing the focus back to individual characters and their story arcs. The potential problem of handling all those characters fairly was handled very well (presumably thanks to Whedon’s experience with the multiple characters and action in Firefly and Serenity) and the writing, pacing and editing were all spot on. Brilliant.

Having seen the Avengers I thought I’d revisit Iron Man to see if it’s as much fun as I remember. It is.

Finally, I was possibly even more excited about The Raid than I was about The Avengers. An Indonesian action and martial arts flick made by a Welshman, set in a tower block and influenced by classic action cinema from the 80s and 90s? Yes please. It was fantastic, generating genuine reactions from the cinema audience ranging from oofs and ouches to nervous laughter and the collective release of breath held during the incredible fight scenes. The fights are filmed with a more static camera than in many recent action films (there is some shaky-cam as well, but it’s used to give a sense of disorgansation and panic) which means you can largely see what’s going on, and wow, is there stuff going on! The plot was very simple so the subtitles weren’t an issue at all (there isn’t too much dialogue) and it had many of the hallmarks of Asian action cinema, albeit with Gareth Evan’s more western touch to the direction. My only issue was that the hype surrounding the film might lead you to expect a continuous 90 minute fight scene, when in fact there are plenty of moments to regroup and get your breath back, before another hyper-kinetic punch up (elbow up? knee up?). That doesn’t mean the film slows down, they just ratchet up the tension instead! Highly recommended.