Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Performance to Remember

This week I will be mostly disagreeing with the general reviews for "Men in Black III"....

I'm going to be honest and confess that I didn't read any reviews for the aforementioned in detail, however, the general idea which I gather is that most label it a mediocre or poor sequel. MIB I was a masterpiece of cinema, I think we can all agree. MIB II I didn't even bother to watch because I heard it was just bad and the advert held no appeal for me whatsoever. But MIB III, well, what can I say, the advert just called to me!

One thing I believe all reviewers and myself can agree upon is that Josh Brolin achieves the mother of all impersonations in this installment as the young K (Tommy Lee Jones) of 40 years prior to the present day. When I saw the trailer and heard Brolin utter those six uncanny words - "How do you know my name?" - with such perfect intonation, accent and manipulation of features that one could almost believe TLJ was just having a really good skin day, I knew I had to see this film. The whole idea of agent J (Will Smith) having to go back in time and chum up to a young K was enough to get my attention and luckily for the film makers they found the perfect actor to encapsulate a young agent K. They were so lucky to find such a brilliant mimic in such a well-respected actor, I almost wonder whether Brolin didn't first go up to them and go "Look what I can do!", causing the concept to spring into their minds.

J and K (or J-K as I'm sure we all like to affectionately label them) were a great pairing from film one. You have two brilliant actors: Will Smith from the early days of his Hollywood career doing what Will Smith has always done best, a jovial, lovable, sarcastic rogue who's got a sassy quip for everyone he meets; and Tommy Lee Jones, a legend and the perfect man to play the stoic, unreadable, passive-to-the-point-it's-frustrating man of few words. Both characters are incredibly likable, the first film was very funny and you have the great pleasure of watching men shoot at weird-looking aliens with their ridiculous, ginormous guns!

The MIB films should be sweet and heart-warming and I believe MIB III maintains this essence from MIB I. It's all about backstory, naturally considering the concept: Why is K so serious and uncommunicative? This question is at the heart of the film as we compare the K we know and love with Brolin's young, jolly K, full of life and happy to shoot the breeze. I warmed to him immediately, as I think any audience member would. His developing relationship with J as J gets to know his partner's younger self is very moving as far as I'm concerned. As always, Smith produces a stellar performance. I literally don't think he's ever fallen short of a good performance. No matter what people may think of some of his films, he can never be criticised for his acting, especially his comic skills. I've already sung Brolin's praises and, to add to this, I found Jemaine Clement to be a pretty great baddy!

Jemaine (from "Flight of the Conchords" of course) is an evil Bogladite assassin called Boris the Animal, locked up in a prison on the moon these past 40 years, but freed by Nicole Scherzinger (yep) and now on the run with a taste for blood! 40 years ago agent K took his arm and put him away and Boris wants revenge. With horrible creatures crawling out of him, gross wrinkly eyes and giant clawed feet, Jemaine, already a large, bear-like human, makes for a relatively fearful villain, but I believe that MIB tends to aim for a bad guy that will make us laugh and who better to chose than one of New Zealand's greatest comic double act?!

I really enjoyed this third installment from MIB. I believe Brolin's performance was a stroke of genius and if the film goes down in history as a dud or not at all, his performance will be remembered and praised for years to come, be it in Empire and Total Film in lists of top characters or one of those Channel 4 list programmes where actors talk about films.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Alien vs Fairytale

I had a bit of a Charlize Theron marathon this extended Jubilee weekend, catching "Snow White and the Huntsman" on Saturday and finally getting to see the "Alien" prequel "Prometheus" this Monday! After a slow few weeks in the cinema it was definitely a treat, and though it can perhaps be argued that neither film quite reached their full potential, I thoroughly enjoyed both and will definitely be watching both again.

SWATH follows the much repeated story of Snow White, from the day her mother pricks her finger and sheds three drops of blood onto the snow - inspiring her desire for a daughter with lips red as blood, skin white as snow and hair black as ebony - to the conflict between White and her evil stepmother. However, this film adds background and a few plot twists of its own. The main appeal of SWATH - other than Chris Hemsworth as the eponymous Huntsman of course - is that it is, I would argue, an original and innovative adaptation of a well-known fairytale. "Snow White" is one of the Grimm stories that has been most reproduced, but I believe it has perhaps the richest material of any of their best-known stories. It has allowed for some interesting interpretations, such as 1997's "Snow White: Tale of Terror", a decidedly horrific adaptation in which the seven dwarfs are seven thieves, multiple of whom attempt to assault Snow White.

In SWATH, Charlize Theron's evil queen, who marries White's father and takes over his kingdom when he is dead, is heavily fleshed out. Her character is developed more than any other, save perhaps the Huntsman, who had previously only played a minor role, usually only appearing in one scene, if at all. We are gradually shown excerpts from Ravenna's (the Queen) childhood and background, explaining her cruelty and strong desire to be the fairest of them all. The characters are given a far greater degree of depth than your traditional fairytale heroes and villains, transforming this into a more adult, complex story than the base elements of the tale allow. Questions that a more grown up and more modern audience might ask are answered in this relatively intelligent adaptation; questions such as how does this ridiculously evil - though admittedly hot - woman convince the King to marry her and subsequently assume control so easily and why is being the fairest of them all so important that she's willing to rip the heart out of a teenage girl? Other characters are also allowed more substantial personalities: the prince is (slightly) more than a handsome man who happens upon White. The two have a history, it is not merely love at first sight. And of course the Huntsman becomes a hero in his own right, not merely a brief threat to the heroine. In fact, the only lead figures who isn't bulked out appears to be Snow White, though perhaps she requires it less. The seven dwarfs are given a relatively smaller role, being replaced as White's main accomplices by the Hunstman, yet they too have a bit more character and motivation than in the Disney version or the original story. Furthermore, we are revealed an entire kingdom suffering under the Queen's cruel rule rather than just one young girl.

The cast is for the most part solid. Theron is always full of character and has mastered this role of evil queen. She has beauty but also strength and power. She is blonde and angelic at the same time as being creepy and dark. Furthermore, Theron's Queen is both cruel and capable of acts of horrendous brutality, while also allowing us to occasionally feel great sympathy for her. I found Kristen Stewart a perfectly acceptable lead, though the part doesn't really demand much of her. Her English accent passable, though this isn't my expertise, and she managed to avoid annoying me throughout, though one motivational speech she delivers to her army towards the end left me somewhat unconvinced. I do question however, whether she is truly "the fairest of them all" or even fairer than Charlize Theron I would have to question, but I believe she can pull off both a delicate nature and reasonable strength which are needed for this role. She is allowed to mope for almost the entire film so the character suits her well enough. Hemsworth is perfectly believable as the Huntsman, large and powerful and grizzly. I think he is a fine actor, looks aside. He is full of charisma and great at comedy - as he showed us in Thor - but can also convey sadness, desperation and anger. Sam Clafin is effectively a new Orlando Bloom, though potentially a better actor. He is the typical dreamy Prince Charming, with absolutely no physical appeal to me but a sweetness and likability which I'm sure will land him many similar roles.

The visuals are what the films has most been praised for and many have claimed that it has sacrificed plot in the quest for mesmerising imagery and I have to agree to an extent. Some of the costumes are incredibly cool for a start. Ravenna is definitely the most aesthetically impressive character, bearing one robe of black feathers which morphs with her into a flock of crows. The multiple scenes of her aging - as she exerts herself with magic - and regaining youth - as she sucks it out of young maidens - look particularly freaky and cool!The film is full of gothic/horror imagery, such as the Queen immersing herself in a bath of milk and of course the image most associated with this story, the blood red apple on the snow white ground. This story definitely offers many opportunities for elaborate scenery, such as the dark forest and all its ghosts and ghoulies, and the film does appear to want to present us with as many impressive and gorgeous sets as possible, perhaps putting less emphasis on the story which is rushed in a few parts, such as the battle at the end. The potential is definitely here for a fantastic film, but unfortunately it doesn't quite deliver. Nevertheless, it was a very entertaining romp!

"Premetheus" is generally classified as the prequel to "Alien", and it is a prequel in that it is set in the same universe and based around a mission funded by the Weyland Corporation, which pops up in the old Alien and even the Predator franchises, constantly attempting to secure the Alien creature as a weapon. However, this film does not involve a battle between humans and the Alien villains from its predecessors. In this movie, we see a group of scientists on a space mission to discover the origins of man. They land on a planet which they believe holds some of the answers to life's great questions and encounter multiple obstacles and enemies.

Many reviews are giving the general impression that "Prometheus" is a bit of a disappointment, a so-so movie. I personally enjoyed it immensely, though I must concede it is not as good a film as "Alien" or indeed "Aliens" and it definitely lacks in the horror and suspense departments in comparison! Yet several of the film's components make it a good film in my books: like SWATH, it too can boast fantastic aesthetics and effects; there is a solid plot line revolving around the mystery of the origins of man; the cast is pretty impressive, including my actor of the year Michael Fassbender, my period drama love Rafe Spall, and the Swedish "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" star Noomi Rapace, a growing favourite of mine; and of course, the all important "weehhhr, weehhrr" noise played on all adverts and at the film's climax!
The original beast!

I can see why hard core "Alien" fans might be disappointed, as this is not your typical Alien film. The monsters after whom the original film was named are not the villains in this piece, though there are clear parallels between the horrors encountered in "Prometheus" and those in its predecessor. No enemy in this film can claim to be anywhere near as terrifying as the Alien, which I believe is one of the most original and scariest creatures ever created in film. Nor does "Prometheus" create the masterful suspense which made its forerunners, especially "Alien", such brilliant horror films and thrillers. I barely jumped throughout the film but that doesn't mean I wasn't at times scared and unnerved by what was in front of me. This film is a 15 for a reason, though I would perhaps class it more as an adventure/thriller than a pure horror film.

That said, this is a cleverly devised film with a brilliant special effects team behind it. Some of the shots are incredibly beautiful, for example the opening scene which spans across a planet we presume is Earth, its countryside, its mountains and lakes, ending with an amazing and imposing shot of a waterfall. The ship (Prometheus) itself is incredibly impressive and scenes such as its landing on the mysterious planet where the giant head temple is found look amazing and are brilliant examples of how far special effects have come in the past decade or so. This is a fun, exciting film, both due to visuals and plot. At no point in its 2 hours and 4 minutes is there a lull, for this film is about solving mysteries and answering questions and so it carries a pretty dense plot, perhaps rushed at times if anything.

The cast is impressive, we have all noticed this, but does it deliver? As with most ensemble casts, some elements play only small roles, when some of us would perhaps like to see more of them: Rafe Spall for example, or even Idris Elba. That said, Elba does ooze cool in this film, as he has in every film or TV show I've ever seen him in. Noomi Rapace is playing an English archaeologist, Elizabeth Shaw, whose findings spark the film's mission to outer space. Rapace was brilliant in "the Girl with the Dragon Tatttoo" and I believe she is well cast here, in a role which requires extreme emotions - in many ways completely unlike the sullen, inexpressive Lisbeth -  excitement, fear, grief, and she is clearly capable of emitting great strength and presence. Theron is always great, though unfortunately this role demands very little from her. I would say the stand out star is Michael Fassbender, not because he is one of my favourite actors and I love everything he does, but because he has the most challenging, interesting role: the android, David. David is the predecessor of all the more advanced androids we have experienced in the earlier "Alien" films. I won't list them here incase it proves a spoiler for some of you, but you should really have watched these films by now unless you're too young! David is programmed by the Weyland Corporation to assist all of Prometheus' passengers on their voyage, bu as always, the android's motives seem suspect. He is incredibly intelligent but has not been programmed to feel emotions. There are so many layers to this both sympathetic and yet unsettling character. He definitely stole the show for me and I think the film is almost worth it for his performance alone.

Go see Prometheus if you enjoy adventures, thrillers and mysteries, and if you desire a little more background to the Aliens and their movies. The well-known monsters are not really a part of this film, but not are they completely irrelevant. For the most part this is a film about mankind, nonetheless, it is set in space and it is aware that it is part of a wider franchise.

I also had the great pleasure of seeing the new "Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" trailers both in 3D before "Prometheus" and now I'm ridiculously excited for both, possibly even more for "Spider-Man"! Though I'm not usually too bothered about 3D, I do think it worked well in multiple shots in "Prometheus" and I am very tempted to see "Spider-Man" in 3D for the moments when he swings through New York's immense structures. Batman and Spider-Man will hopefully be two franchises which do live up to the hype this summer!

Film News
Apparently a "Snow White and the Huntsman" sequel is already being planned and discussed, as long as this one can generate enough revenue to justify it of course.