Prometheus

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAfter a bit of indecision, we decided to save £25 and skip the IMAX version. Probably for the best – no pointless 3D and more money to spend on the Burger King we wolfed on the way to the cinema to see Ridley Scott‘s latest:

Prometheus

“My God, we were so wrong…”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: In the near future, we discover a message from the stars… and head off to see what lies on LV 426.

See it if you like: the first two Alien films

It’s been a while since the last Alien film. Thankfully, as Resurrection was dreadful. Also, Ridley Scott hasn’t had much to do with them since the original back in 1979. A long time to wait for the creator to revisit his work.

Thing is, was it worth the wait? In my personal opinion, yes. Not because it’s an “Alien film”, but precisely because it really isn’t. It just happens to take place in the same universe and, despite what anyone says, it is a prequel to that 1979 classic. However, it’s not told as an Alien film but more from the point of view of the human race. It sets up the first film wonderfully well (I couldn’t spot any inconsistencies), yet still leaves questions unanswered.

That’s been the beauty of the franchise to date. Alien was a tense horror. Aliens was a balls-out action film. Alien 3 straddled the line and, once the studio got their bloody hands off it and let Fincher re-edit it the way it should have been, ended up being more than watchable. Resurrection, as mentioned, is best left forgotten. Variety has been key in keeping it interesting.

Prometheus continues this trend with a film that probably has more in common with the first instalment, but on a different scale and with quite a lot of expectation sitting on its shoulders. It bears this well.

Kicking off in the not too distant future, a group of archaeologists led by Doctors Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings, murals and the like which all contain a similar pattern. After some research, they realise they are effectively a map pointing to a planet that’s reachable using space travel of the day and argue that it’s a chance to meet whoever created the human race.

Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), or at least his globe-spanning company which plays a fairly major part in the earlier/later films, funds the expedition out there where the group discover… well, I don’t want to give away any more than the trailer.

The film has all the familiar aspects of a member of the franchise: an android (this one called David and played by Michael Fassbender), an untrustworthy “company (wo)man” (Meredith Vickers played by a rather sexy Charlize Theron), huge sets (Scott prefers to build in real life rather than digitally), great Chris Foss-like spacecraft, tension, a strong female lead, and so on.

The story moves quite slowly, in honesty, but when the action kicks in it’s with a shock factor. There’s definitely a horror element, both because of the tension followed by a jump, and in the gore stakes. While not as outright violent as the second movie, and not as edge-of-the-seat scary as the first it manages to have elements of both while focussing on a very good story that tries to give a sound basis for what was to follow.

Performances all round are excellent, though I’d pick out Fassbender in particular as what is effectively the first Weyland android. Quirky, cool and mysterious you wonder if the Alien universe has ever been party to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics.

Visually, it’s a treat from the gorgeous sets to the costumes and creature effects.

It seems to have been getting some mixed reactions which is to be expected. I, personally, think it’s a great slice of classic science fiction. It takes a core question – “where do we come from” – and drops a nice little dollop of “what if” in there. The technology may be a little too advanced for the era during which it’s meant to take place, but that’s the only real slip I could see… and one I’d love to have proven right as it would mean there’s a possibility of me just about seeing the beginnings of it in my lifetime!

I can understand why some people won’t have liked it. On the other hand, I’d recommend it highly because I enjoyed it and Gillian reckoned it was pretty good also.

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Lockout

Sneaking in a quick film before the end of the weekend, we took our chances with something unknown:

Lockout

“Here’s an apple. And a gun. Don’t talk to strangers – shoot them.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: improperly (or was he?) convicted secret agent person must single-handedly save the President’s daughter from a prison. Which floats in space.

See if it you like: the idea of Die Hard meets Escape From New York meets Fortress

Based on an idea from Luc Besson, Lockout starts with a bang (actually, lots of them) and just doesn’t let up. It’s fast-paced, funny, utterly daft and thoroughly entertaining as a result. There are threads from many genres mixed up in the plot and the characters and dialogue are as over-the-top as you could hope for.

Guy Pearce plays our lead, be-muscled secret agent Snow caught for (allegedly) turning traitor and killing another agent, then disposing of the secrets he was supposedly stealing. As luck would have it, prisoners break out on board the floating space-prison to which he’s just been sentenced and he’s given a chance to earn his freedom in exchange for rescuing the President’s daughter (Maggie Grace) who conveniently happens to be up there.

This is a relatively low-budget film and comes out opposite the titanic Battleship (see what I did there?) against which it’s surely going to look like a tugboat. However, despite being a much “smaller” film in all respects, it holds its own in the entertainment stakes and most definitely deserves your time. The plot is more focussed than in the larger film with everything following our two main protagonists, and the sharp dialogue – mainly from Snow – is wonderfully dry. James Bond wishes he had this line in humour.

There’s nothing to complain about regarding the quality of the special effects either, although a couple of the speedier sequences are hard to follow as they pan and flip from angle to angle far too fast for these old eyes to follow.

Every action film needs a decent antagonist, and Lockout has two particularly nasty ones in the forms of mastermind Alex (Vincent Regan) and utter nutjob Hydell (Joseph Gilgun). They play off each other and offer two sides of the overblown lunatic that one central bad guy would have entailed.

While there aren’t any real surprises in the storyline, there’s nothing to stop the viewer going along for the ride and thoroughly enjoying the antics of anti-hero Snow. He’s a great character and I’d not mind seeing him in some kind of follow-up.

Incidentally, random link between this and Battleship? Grace played Neeson’s daughter in the awesome Taken (co-written by Besson), a sequel to which is due out later this year. Both actors are due to reprise their roles.

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Paul / Animal Kingdom / West Is West

Two nights, three films. Well, there’s lots out at the moment!

Paul

“Am I harvesting farts? How much can I learn from an ass?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: geeks find alien and go on a road trip with him.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost follow up a zombie film and a cop film with an alien film. They play a pair of nerds, travelling across the US to visit known UFO/conspiracy sites who come across an alien called Paul. Paul asks them to help him escape a group of “men in black” (led by somewhat psycho Jason Bateman) and to safety.

It’s a decent enough little road trip film with quite a few giggles, the majority of them low-brow. The CGI on Paul himself (voiced by Seth Rogan) is pretty impressive, but the characters themselves are more 2-dimensional.

I was really expecting great thing of Paul, much as I was of Hot Fuzz. Instead, I just enjoyed it (much as with the previous film). If anything, I had as much fun spotting the genre references – and there are many of them – as I did following the story.

Not the classic I was hoping for, but still not bad.

Animal Kingdom

“It’s a crazy ******* world.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Teenager gets involved in a world of crime courtesy of rather dodgy family members with silly accents.

This film was nominated for 18 awards in Australia, apparently. There are some great performances, but the story is sooooo slow it hit tedium point for me.

It’s set in Melbourne, from what I can figure, and tells of a young man who’s mother OD’s. As a result he ends up locating and moving in with his estranged grandmother and his uncles, who are all dodgy criminal types. As the family find themselves victimised by the police, Josh (James Frecheville) is pulled further into events he wants nothing to do with while Office Leckie (Guy Pearce) tries to use him to get to the family.

If it was a 60-minute TV drama, it would just about work. As it is, it’s just too long and drawn out. There are some tense moments and, as I said, some excellent performances (chief amongst these in my eyes is Jacki Weaver as the conniving granny). However, it just didn’t grip me or have me on the edge of my seat the way a thriller is meant to.

West Is West

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A domineering Pakistani dad takes his English-born son to “the homeland” to learn about his heritage.

Released 12 years after, but set 5 years after the original East is East, WiW takes the same family abroad to George Khan’s (Om Puri) homeland. Starting in Salford and moving to Pakistan, the film focuses on George’s relationships with his sons, wife and… erm… other wife.

Young Sajid (Aqib Khan) is struggling at school, mainly he’s being bullied at school for being a “Paki”. He blames his father for this, and dad decided that the best way to deal with it is to take the kid to Pakistan. After all, he has family there – Sajid’s brother who’s looking for a wife, and George’s ex-wife and daughters who he walked out on three decades earlier.

The first film, despite being a comedy and hilarious in parts, was a very good social commentary on Mr Khan’s attempts to make his mixed race, English-born kids grow up as “proper” Muslims. WiW follows in this vein without repeating the story of the previous instalment. The humour isn’t racial or racist in style and manages to bring across the problems that such a family may have faced back in the 1970s.

It’s also more of a drama and less of a comedy than EiE. Certainly the laughs are fewer and less intense, but if you take it as a different type of film then it does its job well. The cast are all great, British and Pakistani; young and old alike.

Not one I’d suggest rushing out to the cinema to see, but certainly worth renting when it hits DVD.

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