Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 still raking in untold millions at the box office another book-based fantasy franchise The Chronicles of Narnia makes a decidedly less conspicuous return this week with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the third chapter of C.S. Lewis’ faith-based tale of the Pevensie siblings and their magical instructional adventures.
With the elder Pevensies Peter and Susan now too old to enter Narnia the burden falls upon young Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) to save the mythical realm when a new evil emerges to threaten it: the green mist. Generally speaking faceless formless antagonists like mists and blobs are the stuff of horror movies like say The Mist or The Blob. But in Dawn Treader the green mist isn’t merely a mindless menace; it has the capacity to alter its shape to embody the deepest fears and vulnerabilities of any person it encounters. Not exactly Voldemort but still plenty impressive.
If only the characters sent to vanquish it were a little more interesting. This is the essential problem that plagues director Michael Apted’s film: though legitimately well-crafted and bursting with all manner of gorgeous and terrifying imagery (the monster that emerges during the climax is grotesque enough to traumatize the littler audience members) it wants for protagonists who can be as compelling as the various CGI wonders they encounter. Lucy and Edmund are brave and humble and kind and they are magnificent vessels for the various (and worthwhile) lessons the film has to teach; sadly try as I might I couldn’t summon the strength to care a whit about them. Ditto for their mighty confederate the dashing swashbuckler King Caspian (Ben Barnes) who seems scarcely more than a pretty (but virtuous) face. And Aslan the Jesus Lion voiced by Liam Neeson emerges only on occasion to give a pep talk or a kindly sermon.
You know your $150 million epic is in grave danger when its most memorable character is a talking mouse. Unfortunately (spoiler alert!) I fear that little Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) will not be seen in the next Narnia film. If there is a next Narnia film.
After making three quarters of a billion dollars the first time around it was inevitable more editions of C.S. Lewis’ seven book Narnia series would find their way to the screen. So here is Prince Caspian which jumps ahead 1300 years ( in Narnian time) to reveal a very different world than the one portrayed in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. As the press notes correctly say “The lion hasn’t been heard from for 1 000 years The white witch is dead and the wardrobe is gone.” Now--as the kings and queens of Narnia (aka the Pevensies) are transported to the land from a World War II England train station--they discover the magical land just isn’t what it used to be. It has been taken over by an evil and aggressive band of humans called the Telmarines led by the unforgiving Lord Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). All the talking animals and mythical creatures are now just wallpaper. Just a year (in human time) after their first trip the four Pevensie siblings find themselves summoned back to help the dashing heir to the Narnian throne Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) defeat his uncle. With the assistance of a few characters like the dwarf Trumkin (Peter Dinklage) and Black Dwarf Nikabrik (Warwick Davis)--plus the swashbuckling chatterbox talking mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard)--they set about bringing Narnia back to all its former glory.
Returning just a bit older and wiser the four young actors who play the Pevensie brothers and sisters are in fine form with each getting a chance to display their own quirky talents. Georgie Henley returns as Lucy the only one able to channel the legendary lion Aslan and Anna Popplewell is back as the proper older sister Susan. As for the boys William Moseley is on board again as Peter who summons up the courage to lead the fight against the Telmarines while Skandar Keynes’ Edmund--despite his betrayal in the first film--finds enough backbone this time to redeem himself. The new human characters are led by British stage actor Ben Barnes who is commanding as Caspian the man who would be King but must stave off Spanish film star Sergio Castellitto’s vicious Lord Miraz. The wonderful Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) is an amusing Trumkin while Eddie Izzard offers the perfect voice for Reepicheep. And even though it appeared we wouldn’t be hearing from them again Tilda Swinton’s presumed dead White Witch and Liam Neeson’s eloquent voicing of the Lion Aslan make cameo appearances as well. The large supporting cast is too numerous to name everyone but a special shout-out is also in order for Willow’s Warwick Davis as Nikabrik. Shrek director Andrew Adamson proved in the first Chronicles of Narnia--with all its minotaurs centaurs and other assortment of creatures--that an animation background comes in handy. With Prince Caspian he confirms that promise displaying nifty live-action skills particularly in the battle scenes. The full force of his abilities are put to test in the ultimate confrontation with the Telmarines and what he gets on screen can be favorably compared to something straight out of Braveheart. The stakes in the story this time have been ramped up and so has the fighting. It’s probably safe to say that after 140 minutes of this stuff you will come out with serious battle fatigue but it’s all thrilling to watch with some breathtaking special effects that for lack of a better description are awesome. With all the hardware effects and CGI on view it would be easy for the characters to get lost in the mix but Adamson clearly knows where the heart of his story lies. If this sequel proves anything it’s that the magic fun unforgettable people and creatures are the reasons we will keep coming back to Narnia.
Who wouldn’t want to discover a magical world inside their own closet? Lewis tapped into this childlike wonderment when he wrote The Lion the Witch and
the Wardrobe in 1950 his first of seven adventures into Narnia and the movie picks it right up. Its starts with the four Pevensie siblings—Peter (William Moseley) Susan (Anna Popplewell) Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and little Lucy (Georgie Henley)—who are sent from war-torn London to stay in a country home during WWII. Once there the children stumble upon the enchanted wardrobe that leads them to Narnia a fairytale realm of mythical proportions. But Narnia has fallen under the icy curse of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton)—and only the two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve can break the spell. Now with Narnia's rightful leader—the wise and mystical lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson)—by their side the four children find strength to defeat the witch and lead Narnia into a brand new era. [Cue the sound of trumpets].
After searching long and hard the casting directors for Narnia found the perfect unknowns to play the four Pevensie children especially Lucy and Edmund the two characters who go through the most changes in the story. The sweet-faced Henley has just the right amount of innocence and bravado as Lucy the first to discover Narnia who then has to convince her brothers and sister its real. In turn as the mean-spirited jealous Edmund—who just wants a little respect—Keynes scowls and pouts like a pro. The rest of the Narnia children may be a little stiff but will gain seasoning the more Narnia sequels they do much like the Harry Potter trio we’ve grown accustomed to. Of the adults the always unusual Swinton (Constantine) is one scary broad adequately chewing it up as the malevolent sorceress as well as striking a very formidable pose dressed in highly elaborate costumes. And Liam Neeson adds a nice calming touch as the voice of the wise Aslan. It’s taken awhile to bring a live-action Narnia to its adoring fans—and New Zealand director and co-writer Andrew Adamson (Shrek and Shrek 2) has only his fellow countryman Peter Jackson to thank for finally making it happen. Just as C.S. Lewis was influenced by his friend J.R.R. Tolkein Adamson is obviously guided by the Lord of the Rings filmmaker. From the great Aslan to the thousands of mythical creatures Adamson uses the technological advances set up by the Rings trilogy and creates a real magical Narnia many of us have only imagined in our heads. It seems the glorious New Zealand can pass as Narnia and Middle-Earth. But in paying homage to all the greatness Jackson achieved with Lord of the Rings The Chronicles of Narnia inevitably pales in comparison. You just can’t watch the final drawn out battle between Aslan’s army and the Witch’s and not measure it up to Rings far more stellar conflicts.