Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Prometheus turns a corner

A stunning alien landscape and a rich, full cast of characters gets audiences fired up over the latest installment to Ridley Scott's iconic sci-fi franchise. 


ARTH VADER (AV): Well, the long-awaited prequel to one of Science fiction's pillars arrived this summer to incredible hype and fanfare. This was a weird one for me, Pontificator. Scott claimed shortly before the film's release that this was not a prequel so much as it was an 'alternate beginning' meant to re-set the franchise and take the story arc in a new direction. Personally, I loved–not just liked–this movie, the re-booted origin kind of leaves me with a huge "WTF" hovering over my head. So what, the first four films were a dream sequence? "Oh, just kidding, here's the real story...", I don't know Ponty, I have a hard time with a direction change like this. The movie was great, the motivations? Not so clear, and not sounding too good.  
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There is, as you read this, extensive conversation about this movie... and continuity is on the menu. The movie does well to link itself back to the very first Alien movie by exploring who the Engineers are (as seen in the first film) and emulating the undertone of mistrust and suspicion of androids by recreating that same dynamic in David that was previously seen in Ash. In doing so, it creates many more questions than it answers... opening the door to further broaden the continuity of the “Alien” universe. If this was intended as a re-boot Vader... then the majority of the audience missed the boat on this... and just adds to the already murky conversations happening. 


AV: High marks, here, Ponty. Loved the casting. Wasn't entirely sure why Guy Pearce was done up as the aging and decrepit Weyland. The story promised lots and delivered in parts, but... I just didn't get it. Girl with the Dragon Tatoo's Noomi Rapace was an ideal heroine as Dr. Shaw. Strong, earthly beauty with a solid set of convictions that drive her every compassion and effort. I'm a huge Idris Alba fan, so the role of Captain Janek was well-played. Charlize Theron's role added a second, compelling female character to the mix and my far and away favorite character was Michael Fasbender's David. His insidious curiosity and mysterious agenda made him a fantastic and compelling persona.

TP: I was very pleased with the chosen cast of this film as well Vader... and thought everyone did a fine job of giving their characters life. Noomi Rapace was excellent and convincing as the altruistic scientist looking for answers. Idris Elba continues to be a capable actor and although his role isn’t large, he sells the part. Charlize Theron fills the role of “strong female” we’ve come to expect in any “Alien” related movie... although Noomi smoothes the edges of that mold. Without question though, the show stealer is Michael Fassbender. As the android David he is eerie, mysterious, sinister, and heroic... all at once. It’s ironic that his role as an artificial person conveys more through his excellent acting... than any of the other human characters. 


Not so great on this front, P-man. While certainly wrought with great looking landscapes and effects shots, this movie did NOT bring anything new to the table in the special effects arena. Unlike it's predecessors, this movie did not expand on the Alien war chest. Don't get me wrong, the effects shots of the Prometheus (the Ship) itself were stunning and what little of H.R. Gieger's original designs and Moebeus' interiors that were used, even in influence, were terrific. But unlike the other films, it was NOT a dark and prominent part of the film's landscape. Thoughts, Ponty? 

TP: I thought the special effects were great Vader, although I agree that no new ground was broken. I didn’t see the need for 3D as it was never used as well as other movies have used it. I say that in specific reference to the “jump out at you” factor...which never took hold. The landscapes and creature effects (undoubtedly a combination of live prop ad CGI) were very well done. I loved the holographic log effect that was used to fill in the backstory in certain parts where answers we needed. At this point...any film dropping the ball in this category shouldn’t even be on the big screen. 


AV: On the surface, this movie is a success. Great effects, decent writing and (loosely) based on one of Sci-Fi's all-time horror classics, Prometheus did tow the line. It even offered a great sense of expanded understanding into the world of Weyland Industries and late 21st century Earth. But this movie does have some flaws. How was Dr. Shaw able to do so much athletically–and survive–after having and alien ripped out of her and it's alien fluids filling her open wound, and then running, jumping and fighting her way throughout the rest of the film? Why were the Aliens so different? Why did one of the explorers come back from the dead as super-space zombies with bug-like characteristics? Why did Weyland have to deceive the others when he was the one that funded the expedition? Too many questions to my liking, here. Too many unnecessary loose ends or things left to interpretation.

TP: This section cannot be more aptly titled for any other film. All this movie does is force you to take a deeper look at it from every angle imaginable. Just Google “Prometheus discussion” and you will be inundated with a plethora of sites having incredible discussions about all facets of this film. This entire post can easily be about all the questions this film raises...but for brevity, I’ll just discuss some of the inconsistencies with human common sense. Common sense says always keep your helmet on in an alien environment since microscopic contamination doesn’t register on scanners. Common sense says you don’t play with alien lifeforms that behave like the cobra of Earth. Common sense says you send the android in... ALONE, in all situations that are potentially dangerous to make certain it’s safe before exposing yourself. Common sense says that when you kill a hostile alien life make certain it’s dead before moving on. Other than that and the points you raised Vader... there are much deeper questions that will be discussed for a long time.

AV: At the end of the day, movie-making is a business and the number one edict of business is to turn a profit. Which is EXACTLY what Prometheus will do. As of the writing of this post, the movie has performed exceedingly well at the box office. As for Sequels? Scott has hinted at additional films starring Dr. Shaw (at least two) and a re-imagining of the Alien universe. Maybe some of my questions will be supplied with answers in future films. The story is still rich and full of possibilities. I am optimistic, if not still a little baffled.

TP: They have to make a sequel. I need to know some things...and leaving me with more questions than answers just isn’t cool. There are many loose ends to tie up and many more dots to connect...screaming out the need to make a sequel to this film.

ARTH VADER Rates Prometheus: A great looking movie, with a loaded cast and some interesting insights into the nature of mankind's creation, Prometheus offers a fun and interesting ride, if not leaving us with more than few nagging questions. While I do miss the dark and sinister Xenomorphs from the first films, Prometheus earns a solid 7 busted blocks from this happy but strangely perplexed fan. Here's to more face huggers in the future! 

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Prometheus: This is truly a hardcore science-fiction film that plays havoc with the inquisitive mind. I doubt there has been any other movie in recent history that has generated so many discussions about what was truly happening before our eyes. I enjoyed this film... and I am thoroughly enjoying all the discussions that follow... as this film bursts 8 blocks from within, now busted and slimy.

Prometheus: 7.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Expected Fun Across The Space/Time Continuum

A glimpse into the bond forged between J & K makes Men In Black 3 a worthy sci-fi comedy with an emotional twist. 

Arth Vader (AV): The ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny world of Men in Black returns this summer with the latest installment, MIB3. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return to their roles as agents "K" & "J" respectively and bring us a surprisingly fun ride through time and space. Mindlessly fun and filled with fast-paced action that falls in step with it's predecessors, I really liked this one, Pontificator. 
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I can’t say I’m surprised Vader. The Men in Black films come from comic books published by Marvel Comics. Although there are numerous changes from the books to the films including characters, tone, methods and going from all paranormal activity investigation (like X-Files) to just extraterrestrial situations, the films have been entirely consistent with each other, if not completely true to the original books.
AV: Director Barry Sonnenfeld has accomplished what is a difficult task for any director; keep a faltering franchise afloat–and relevant–to fickle movie-goers. And with a series that has an inconsistent amount of time between installments. Originally, this movie was slated for a 2011 release and then got pushed to December 2012. It makes sense to try and capture summer movie box office money and with a cast like this. Since it's opening weekend, it has already fared pretty well. The addition of Emma Thompson added a nice polished, comedic edge that felt seamless. The film's direction was fun and well paced, with the usual ridiculous-but-fun climatic hi-jinks. Your thoughts, Pontificator? 
TP:  Well Vader, this isn’t a movie made for the Oscar’s, but it did boast some very good actors, even if the content didn’t push them to their best performances. Will Smith delivered as expected from the first two films as did Tommy Lee Jones (although Jones ‘s role was extremely limited). The show stealer for me was Josh Brolin...doing a perfect movie-long impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones. Jemaine Clement was also very entertaining as Boris the Animal.The film had an even pace to it and the decision to bring the story full circle with the previous two movies was a good idea.
AV: The usual array of eye-dazzling visual effects were on tap for the third installment of this series and they have never looked better. Icky, gooey and a tad repulsive, the face-churning aliens and their liberal bodily-fluid-laced interactions with humans are as fun and stomach churning as ever. However, the real eye-opening SF/X treatment in this film, hands-down, is the time-travel accessed intro of the younger Agent K, stunningly portrayed by Josh Brolin. The voice-characterization of the older K (Lee-Jones) is hauntingly on-point. It is one of the movie's highlights and I dare say, alone is worth the price of admission. 
TP: If there’s one aspect that can save a movie like this if the comedy isn’t getting the job done, it’s special effects. I expected them to be off-the-wall and a little zany, and was pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be very good. I was thoroughly disturbed early in the film with Boris the Animal's power, a testament to the special effects. The 3D was very well done (as always though, it comes as sporadic events) and jumped out of the screen at times. Of course many of the aliens could have been presented more realistically.... but I think that would have detracted from the whole “Men in Black” experience the filmmakers looked as though they were trying to capture.
AV: While I am not the biggest lover of the Men In Black franchise, this movie is easily my favorite  of the three as it ties the series up nicely. The tear-jerking revelation behind the true nature of the two character's relationship and the film's many 'aha' moments are expertly complimented by the dialogue and effects shots. Though I couldn't tell you that you NEED to see this one in the theater, it is worth the admission price and it is a solid, fun time. And really, isn't that what all we want from our movies. P-Man?
TP: Even with today’s technology and some top notch talent, this film felt very dated to me V-Man. I enjoyed it well enough, but the funny parts just didn’t strike me as being the “funny” I remember from the first two films. At some point, you have to break new ground or the slapstick approach and one liners will eventually fall flat. The movie felt as though it belonged a few years after the second film, instead of the ten year hiatus the franchise took. The saving of this film came from the great character acting of Brodin, the occasional dazzle of the special effects...and a decent story that tied it all together in a nice package that made me think back to the first film.
AV: Quite frankly, as enjoyable as I found this movie, I think I'm kind of done with the Men In Black story. I have a 'been there-seen that' emotion for these movies now. I need new content, new experiences, new humor. Big Willie Style and Mr. Jones are a fun, offset comedy duo in the Odd Couple/Beverly Hills Cop persuasion but I (yawn!), quite frankly, have had my fill of this story. Sometimes, the best way to preserve the quality of a movie series or trilogy is to leave it the heck alone once the story has been told, wouldn't you say, Ponty? Also, the absence of end-credit content also implies a wrap up to me. 
TP: We certainly agree here Arth. The actors are getting too old to make a sequel viable. Using Brodin in a time travel plot was a great idea, but now that it’s been done, there is no place else to take this. Besides, the completeness of the story and wrapping up of the franchise simply works best in this case. There is no need to drag MIB out... just let it be what it is.
ARTH VADER Rates Men In Black 3: For a good, wholesome, (mostly) family-friendly sci-fi foray this summer, you could do a whole lot worse than Men In Black 3. With creepy-crawly alien creatures at every turn, cool special effects a half-baked but totally fun story and an emotional twist that quite honestly I did NOT see coming, Men In Black 3 gets eight solid, chronologically displaced busted blocks and leaves me with a smile on my face. 
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Men In Black 3: I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as you did Vader. The film was fun, but not as much fun as it could have been had it come out years ago. The effects were nice, but not unique. The story was well done, but really the only road to travel in this case, especially to wrap it all up. Truthfully, if you applied the neuralyzer to me... I’d certainly forget this film only busted six blocks.

Men in Black 3: 7/10 Busted Blocks

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Battleship delivers a sinking feeling

Hasbro's 2012 summer dud puts movie-goers into a ridiculous line of fire.


Arth Vader (AV): Battleship? Pontificator, any resemblance to this movie and the actual bored... I mean, board game–is purely coincidental. While this two-hour eye-sore made some vain effort to tell a story that included alien warships–that sat on the water and hopped around, even though they could fly 100 million light years to Earth–and the Destroyer USS Arleigh Burke match wits on the open sea oddly laid out in a grid (get it?). Lame, because that would mean the aliens flew millions of light years to 'hop around' on the pacific ocean and spar against a clearly inferior adversary. Stupid. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This movie was made from the Hasbro game, Battleship. I’ve played this game several times, both the original and electronic versions...and have never come across any aliens Vader. In terms of strict continuity, the game wasn’t followed. In their defense though, had they adhered strictly to the game, it would have been something less than what it was...and it was a tough sell to begin with.


AV: I'm downright embarrassed for Director Peter Berg. As a quality director who directed noteworthy films like Friday Night Lights and Collateral (a personal favorite of mine), this movie certainly knocked his credibility… pardon the phrasing… down a peg or two. The movie's pacing was choppy–and I'm being polite here–and showed audiences NOTHING new in genre or cinema graphically. As for the cast, well, it seemed to be more of a "who's not doing anything right now?" kind of cast composite. I am especially disappointed in Liam "Qui gon-Jinn" Neeson for his role as a random Admiral and tears for True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård who delivered quality performances in Generation Kill and Melancholia. I can't even comment on Rhianna's transparent role. ugh.

TP: I would have loved to see Liam Neeson play a larger role in this film, but of course, he was superb in the role he had. Taylor Kitsch isn’t going to win any awards for playing the angry and rebellious type... it’s just too easy to play and he wasn’t really convincing as such. He just seemed unreasonably brash to me...but maybe that’s what they were going for, at some point. I was never convinced of anything by Rihanna’s acting... except that this wasn’t the role for her... and maybe acting isn’t her thing. The directing was much better than the acting and this showed fairly early in the movie... although saying that doesn’t really mean much considering the final product. 


AV: If this movie had a redeeming quality, and trust me, I am still searching for one, it may well be the special effects (SFX). While not exactly blowing me away (sorry) the SFX were decent. Visually compelling, if not empty and dopey given the context. 

TP: It’s hard to mess up special effects these days and this movie did a good job of not doing so. There was only one scene for me where the CGI was evident, and I mean that in terms of it didn’t come off as real. The rest of the film was textbook special effects and superb for films like this with a particular scene going old school prop instead of CGI, which really worked well for that scene. I found the aliens to be very interesting in the similarities and differences they had with humans. Their scanning technology was reminiscent of the Predators while another weapon, rolling about and shredding everything, was reminiscent of Transformers.


AV: A deeper look? There's nothing here, folks. Vapid, empty, confusing and pointless, this movie offers the viewer nothing but two plus hours of fancy effects. Aliens that can't see? An Alien warship that can fly but chooses instead to jump on top of the water? The alien mother-ship can't communicate with its home world, so they try and commandeer a NASA radar array? 

How do you re-fit a decommissioned battleship that's been in dry-dock for 30 years? Where did the ammunition come from? Where did over 1,000 retired sailors come from to man the ship that saves the earth from the alien armada? I could keep going—but I think you get where I'm going here, Ponty. Though not a veteran myself, I have a deep understanding and appreciation for naval warships accomplishments, logistics and capabilities. This movie just ignored all of them. 

TP: There was something missing in this film Vader... and the more I look, the easier it is for me to tell what it was. There was action in it... some very creative sequences in fact. I was excited, at one point, at how they were able to make an obsolete battleship interesting and relevant.

There was a modicum of comedy, particularly early in the film with a sequence gag of one of the scientist saying they should contact different agencies...only to be told that he already was as the camera pulled back with a “do’h” feel to it. I guess I wasn’t feeling what they tried to pass off as drama. As dire as the situation was, I was never convinced that the emotions of the characters were vested in their predicament. The film didn’t draw my feelings out...and so I came away empty and wondering why there wasn’t a connection. From what the word about town is... not many people felt connected to this film.


AV: Please, God, no.

TP: They actually set up for the possibility (if you stayed past the credits)... but I really don’t see the point unless they’re going to explore the alien culture further... and I can see some difficulty in trying to make a whole movie about them while still trying to make it about the main character of this film. Perhaps a complete departure from the whole “battleship” idea... and just go with something different. Maybe “Connect Four”...?

AV: Ha ha! Connect Four might be a step in the right direction after this movie, Pontificator!

ARTH VADER Rates Battleship: I can sum up this film with the following observation: one of my boys and I went to a mid-week, evening showing of this movie.
In the theater, there was one other man sitting there in the room with us. He left approximately one hour into the movie. I was going to give this movie a zero-out-of-ten busted blocks. But then
I remembered that the special effects weren't horrible. So I'll load one (1) busted block into my main battery, fire–and then try to erase this dismal event from my memory.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Battleship:
I went to this movie with no expectations and came out of it entertained (thanks to the special effects), but feeling there could have been so much more to it (like a plausible plot). The missing ingredient (no connection whatsoever) sinks this film with five busted blocks.
Battleship: 3/10 Busted Blocks