If you plan to see Prometheus this weekend, know that you are in for an endless buffet of visual astonishment, especially if you spring to see it in IMAX 3D. Ridley Scott belongs to the breed of filmmaker who can justify the use of the 3D gimmick. He poured everything at his disposal to make his new science-fiction film worth the extra dollars, euros, pound notes needed to watch it in an immersive environment. Prometheus is visual and aural splendor for the cinema.
Know also that you will meet flat characters who often do idiotic things (“Don’t pet the freaky alien snake-thingy! You call yourself a scientist?”) and more idiotic things (“Don’t take off your helmets, you morons! You call yourselves space-explorers?”) and more idiotic things (“Don’t go down into the basement alone!” Well, that doesn’t specifically happen, but many equivalent things do.); a script that turns its initial concept into a shapeless mess by the halfway point; and the general disappointment of watching what promised to be an amazing return for Ridley Scott to the Alien universe he helped create ending up as standard science-fiction thriller pulp.
Does this add up to a good film? Uh, I’m willing to say it does. And whether “good” is enough for you when it comes to Prometheus will depend on how much you anticipated its release and how much you devoured of its brilliant promotional and viral campaigns.
Prometheus presents a puzzle for me personally: It is far below what I wanted as a dramatic experience, yet the cinematic experience of it is stupendous. The tension here offers plenty to ponder, but in a meta-critical sense that has little to do with the story that Prometheus offers. What makes a good film? What makes a good story? What makes a good film story? How much do expectations alter those questions? Are they all the same questions? Yes? No? Buy a vowel?
I guess what I am trying to say is that you should go see Prometheus for yourself, no matter what the critical consensus says, simply because it engages in questions about filmmaking and will no doubt begin tons of debate.
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Summer movies, like boxes of Crackerjacks (does anyone still eat those? I never see them for sale any more), come packed with surprises. And, like Crackerjacks toys, often they are lame surprises. Let-downs. Occasionally — and it usually happens only once per summer — the toy you dig out of the same-old same-old caramel and peanut glop is a Hot Wheels car with flame details and killer sci-fi spoilers that somebody in the Crackerjack plant accidentally dropped into the box while leaving hastily for a smoke break.
Snow White and the Huntsmen is one of those positive summer surprises. I hope it isn’t the last “Hot Wheels” shock of the season, but in the month-long lull that followed the boffo fun of The Avengers, I’ll take it and cling to it.
A high-fantasy film like Snow White and the Huntsman (the ampersand only appears on publicity material) should not be a hard-sell to Black Gate readers. But the marketing and trailers pushed hard to get the Twilight fan-base to show up, so fantasy lovers pegged it early on as “not for us.” But it is! The Twilight viewers will love it, but they’ll like it for the same reasons other viewers will: it’s a broad-appealing, well-constructed, marvelous-looking, fun fantasy romp.
And, if it were not for a major casting blunder, I could easily see myself adding Snow White and the Huntsman to my Blu-ray shelf the week it comes out. I still will purchase it, but a few months after its street-date when I can get a bargain on it used.
The unpleasant truth is the piece of miscasting is monumental: the first of the two title characters, the figure who gives her name to the legend. My dear Snow White. Played in a perpetual coma by Kristen Stewart.
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Before getting into Men in Black Part the Third, I must retract a promise made in an earlier post, where I vowed to review eighteen of this summer’s genre movie releases. But the blame rests with Paramount, not with me. In a move that can best be described as a vote of “less-than-zero confidence” in their own product, Paramount has delayed the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation from next month to March 2013. With only a month to go before its originally slated release, and with a promotional campaign already going full throttle, G.I. Joe just got banned from the summer leagues. The excuse: “3D conversion.” Uh huh. I can’t imagine how terrible the film must actually be if Paramount chose to ditch it this late and swallow a few million bucks of promotion. I estimated that The Amazing Spider-Man would viciously pound G.I. Joe in its second frame, and Paramount apparently decided that G.I. Joe’s first frame would be so poor that they didn’t want to go through the embarrassment. I wonder how much Hasbro’s Battleship flop affected Paramount’s decision to drop the toy company’s other movie of the summer?
Anyway, Men in Black 3, a.k.a. MIIIB, pronounced “Mieb” and known on Arrakis as “Mi’i’d.” The film that, whatever else it may achieve, has the distinction of taking down The Avengers from the #1 box-office slot after reigning for three weeks.
The original Men in Black was a minor miracle in the summer of 1997. (Keep in mind, this was the same summer as Batman and Robin; we were desperate.) It was compact, clever, breezy, and crackled with the chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith at the height of his comic powers. It also looked like ideal sequel material, but when Men in Black II arrived and stunk in 2002, the first film began to look like a perfect one-off: nothing more was needed.
Men in Black 3 is a large improvement over Men in Black II, and even though it runs more than fifteen minutes longer — the longest of the three films — the second sequel moves faster and gets back some of the click of the ’97 movie. However, the first Men in Black still seems like a one-off. Men in Black 3 is a bland film at worst, and somewhat enjoyable at its select best.
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You sunk my interest.
And so The Avengers gets another week at #1. Welcome to the Billion Dollar Club. Have a seat next to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and watch that The Dark Knight doesn’t try to steal your popcorn.
The question burning my mind as I left the theater after watching Battleship was: “Why ‘Fortunate Son’?” At the close of two hours of a rah-rah, fist pumping, pro-military glamor parade, why play one of most famous and angriest protest songs ever over a montage of alien ships getting smithereen’d? Did no one involved in the movie listen to the lyrics? “Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Oh, they’re Red, White and Blue. / And when the band plays ‘Hail to Chief’ / Oh, they point the cannon at you.” Maybe the music supervisor thought, “Oh, hell ya! People love Creedence Clearwater Revival. Let’s crank it up!” Perhaps director Peter Berg was trying to allay blame for the film, screaming “It ain’t me! It ain’t me!” Or maybe Berg filled his Navy vs. Aliens blow-em-up flick with a subversive anti-military/industrial complex message that I failed to find on my radar.
However, I will never know for certain, because there’s no way I will ever watch Battleship a second time. This is the essential Stupid Summer Movie, a Michael Bay film without Michael Bay’s obsession with disaster porn that at least gives his junk a crazy edge. If you thought the idea of adapting a strategy guessing game was a poor choice for a blockbuster movie, you were right: stick a red peg on your upper tactical screen.
Maybe the “Fortunate Sons” are the film’s heroes, who have the luck of going up against an expeditionary force of the stupidest extraterrestrials since Mac and Me. These heavily armed dreadnoughts fly twenty light years to reach Earth, but immediately smash their most crucial vessel into a satellite (they were drinking, I assume). Later, the aliens suffer defeat from the insurmountable force of senior citizens, a tourist attraction, a paraplegic, a supermodel driving a Jeep, and a tech-geek with heavy luggage.
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Dark Shadows is the first victim of The Avengers. Next up is Battleship.
Contrary to the horrified reactions to the trailer, the state of Tim Burton’s creative career, and Warner Bros. willful promotional ignorance of the movie, Dark Shadows is not a massive disaster. It’s merely a dull flick that suffers from the most standard of bad-movie flaws: an uninteresting story. A few flashes of something better appear — although it is hard to determine what that something was — but this latest attempt to revive the 1966–71 Gothic daytime soap opera seems to drift in clouds of weed, lazily resorting to some broad yet humorless gags while forgetting that it has multiple plot strands that require attention. The film’s slogan really should’ve been: “We were going to make a compelling story for Dark Shadows, but instead we got high.”
Dark Shadows also isn’t much of a comedy; the reviled trailer sells the film as outrageous culture-clash humor, but these kind of jokes make up only about a third of the film. The rest of it consists of stilted scenes of characters sitting down and talking about what isn’t happening in the rest of the movie.
At least there’s a great soundtrack, a surprisingly smooth meld of one of Danny Elfman’s better scores in recent memory with pleasing early ‘70s pop and rock. Another plus is a production design that feels more natural and sensuously subdued than what Tim Burton usually produces. If Burton was consciously experimenting with an understated Gothic décor and a more realistic vision of the 1970s than people expect of him, I applaud him for it. It works, and it’s one of the few aspects of Dark Shadows that does.
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So begins my long trip through the genre movies of the Summer of ’12 for Black Gate and benefit of several readers. I’m glad that things got off to a tremendous start.
As in a recording-shattering $207 million dollar take at the U.S. box-office, for a total of $640 million globally — so far. Oh, what a menacing term: “so far”!
The Avengers is not the end product of five movies and five years of preparation from Marvel Studios. It’s a beginning. While the two Iron Man films (2008 and 2010) were smash hits, the other three superhero films in the Avengers roster (The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger) were more standard successes, and they meant more to the comic book fan-base than to general audiences. Now, the general audience is pumped to get more from these characters. All the Avengers are now major public stars, and with this insane success, Marvel is poised to truly unleash their stable of heroes on a public than will be drooling and clawing to get more.
I have watched The Avengers twice in theaters on its opening weekend, something I haven’t done since The Lord of the Rings films. That’s a review in itself, but a since I am 1) a Marvel zombie and Avenger fan since childhood, and 2) inaugurating this series of movie reviews for the summer, I have an obligation to go in-depth on this stupendous piece of entertainment cinema. I will avoid big spoilers as much as I can, since this is technically still a “review,” but some tidbits about the massive set-pieces will leak out. But you’ve seen the film already at least once, right? Three times, anyone? (I know plenty who are “three times and counting.”)
Okay, let’s assemble and do this.
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