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.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
The ratings weren't so big as those for the finale of the original Survivor, but CBS' Survivor II: The Australian Outback still drew the third-highest numbers of the year, behind only the Super Bowl and the Oscars. (CBS noted that the second Survivor finale aired in a more competitive time slot than its predecessor's.) The two-hour episode pulled a 20.1 rating and a 31 share (a 15.9/39 among adults 18-49), peaking in the final half-hour with a 23.6/33. A reunion show, hosted by Bryant Gumbel, at 10:00 p.m. also edged out a new episode of E.R. on rival NBC. CBS said that was the first time a first-run episode of the hospital drama had been beaten by any network since E.R.'s premiere season in 1994. The Late Show with David Letterman also benefited from the Survivor finale, notching up a rare win over NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
CNN WOOING CLINTON?
CNN co-founder Reese Schonfeld claimed on Friday that Robert Pittman, the cable news channel's COO, is personally wooing Bill Clinton to join the company as the host of a live, nightly interview program. In an interview with CBS MarketWatch, Schonfeld also indicated that CNN is looking to have CBS anchor Dan Rather host an expanded primetime program of hard news. Schonfeld roundly endorsed the CNN strategy, saying that Clinton "could triple ratings" for the network. Asked about Schonfeld's comments, Clinton attorney Robert Barnett told CBS MarketWatch that the former president "has received many, many offers for media projects, to host his own show or be a commentator, and is not pursuing any of those things at this time."
UPN MAKING FRIENDS WITH DIAMONDS
UPN has sent what its CEO, Dean Valentine, has called "welcome-to-the-neighborhood" gifts to Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar that include a diamond necklace and a Gucci leather jacket, the New York Times reported Monday. The gifts presumably were intended to win over Gellar's affinity after she had publicly stated earlier this year that she would continue to appear on the show only if it remained on The WB. The Times said that other cast members had received gift baskets that include beluga caviar, Cristal Champagne and $4,000 Cartier watches. "They [the gifts] may be a little pricier than a chocolate cake, but the idea's the same," Valentine said.
"THE X-FILES" FINALE: STILL AN X
X-Files creator Chris Carter has indicated that the final two episodes of the current season could serve one of three purposes: as a cliffhanger for a season finale; as the closing episode of the entire series; or as a teaser for a forthcoming feature film. In an interview appearing on the TV Guide Web site, Carter also said that he is in "constructive" negotiations with Fox about returning for a ninth year with the sci-fi drama, but, he suggested, it was unlikely that David Duchovny would be back. "We had a really good, and I felt sweet, send-off for him his final night a little over a week ago. And whatever decision he makes, we have done eight terrific seasons together, and if there are more, great. And if there are no more, I will figure out a way to hopefully make the show as good as it can be," Carter said. He also noted that the final two episodes will center around the character Scully's pregnancy.
CONTRACT TALKS STALL WITH "THE VIEW" COHOSTS
Negotiations to renew the contracts of The View cohosts Meredith Vieira, Joy Behar and Star Jones have bogged down, according to TV Guide columnist J. Max Robins. Writing in the May 12 issue, Robins quoted an unnamed network insider as saying that following Disney's recent round of layoffs, ABC is "trying to lowball everybody." Although The View has become a hit in the 11a.m. hour, Jones and Behar reportedly earn only $300,000 a year according to Robins, while Vieira is paid about $500,000. Lisa Ling, the newest member, makes only $200,000, the columnist said.
WILL ACTORS FOLLOW WRITERS IN SETTLING WITH PRODUCERS?
A spokesman for the Screen Actors Guild has taken issue with numerous analysts who have suggested that Friday's agreement between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Motion Picture and TV Producers is likely to serve as a model for a similar settlement between SAG and the AMPTP. SAG spokesman Greg Krizman told Monday's New York Times: "Everybody is telling us that the writers' agreement is a template for us, but we're trying to back away from that somewhat." Nevertheless, an article in today's Wall Street Journal quotes an unnamed labor lawyer who formerly negotiated labor contracts for the studios as saying: "Everyone expects SAG's proposals to fairly closely mirror the WGA's financial proposals." In a statement on Friday, SAG and AFTRA said, "If the AMPTP and the networks are prepared -- as they have assured us they are -- to address the unique needs of actors, we are confident we can emulate this significant accomplishment of reaching an agreement without a work stoppage." Among other things, the new industry contract with the WGA calls for a 3.5-percent pay increase for writers, higher residual fees, greater earnings from foreign and DVD sales, the right to visit sets, attend premiers and sit in on the cast's readings of their scripts.
NAME-CALLING ESCALATES IN "HOLLYWOOD REPORTER" TO DO
John Babcock Jr., the CEO of media publishing giant BPI, the parent company of the Hollywood Reporter, has given a ringing endorsement to the trade paper's publisher, Robert Dowling, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the resignation of the Reporter's labor reporter, David Robb. Robb had quit after Dowling spiked an article that he had written suggesting that the paper's gossip columnist had accepted favors from two Hollywood producers in exchange for favorable mentions in his column. Dowling assigned the article to other Reporter journalists. In a memo to the trade paper's staff, Babcock accused other journalists of painting an "incomplete and obviously one-sided" version of what had occurred. He also underscored Dowling's criticism of Robb's article, saying that "Robb had become so emotionally invested in this story that any pretense of objectivity had long since been abandoned." Without citing specific incidents, Babcock alleged that the issue "also involved claims of harassment (both internally and externally) along with overly aggressive and questionable reporting techniques which put the company at legal risk." Dowling said in a letter appearing in the Reporter that the allegations of harassment had been made by executives of the Directors Guild of America after Robb allegedly threatened DGA Executive Director Jay Roth with an investigation of his personal affairs after Roth complained to Dowling about an article that Robb had written.
INSIDE.COM TO COST. "INSIDE" MAG TO BITE THE DUST
Brill Media, the publishing company formed by Court-TV founder Steven Brill, said Friday that it plans to launch a fee-based version of its online media newsmagazine Inside.com on July 1. The new site, it said, will reportedly combine content from Inside.com with material from other Brill-owned publications, including Folio, Cable World and the Kagan World Media newsletters. Inside, a magazine print version of the online site, which had been expected to be combined with Brill's Content magazine as a new publication, Inside Content, has apparently been cast off. The statement said that "launching any new magazine in this economic environment doesn't make sense."
BOLLYWOOD STAR ARRESTED FOR COCAINE POSSESSION
Rising Bollywood film star Fardeen Khan has been arrested in India for alleged possession of cocaine in the latest scandal to rock the Indian film industry. According to Monday's India Express, the actor has confessed that he uses cocaine. "We are immune to shocks now," an industry veteran told the newspaper, referring to numerous sensational arrests involving Bollywood figures during recent months.