Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

2012 in review – Reeling in Films

As each year rolls to a close, I find myself desperately Googling lists of films which opened in the year in an effort to determine what I actually saw at the cinema.  You may encounter a similar situation – did I really enjoy that movie this year or did it come three years ago and I’ve only just caught up with it?

That said, I’m pretty sure that I can post a solid top five movies of the year – all of which are mostly perfectly defensible.  Ahem…

1) Brave

Women with bows and/or arrows - you couldn't avoid them in 2012 pop culture

Women with bows and/or arrows – you couldn’t avoid them in 2012 pop culture

I hated “Cars” so much that I purposefully avoided “Cars 2” when it opened last year.  I know people who loved both movies, but I’m firmly of the belief that I’ll only see it when it ends up free to watch on TV.  I’m happy to say that “Brave” reaffirmed my belief in Pixar’s storytelling abilities and seemed, at times, made for me.

Set in Scotland? Check.  Strong-willed heroine with character layers and imperfections?  Check.  Knockabout comedy and thrilling action sequences?  Oh yes.   Amazing voice cast? Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, Billy ConnollyCraig FergusonRobbie ColtraneJulie Walters – check-a-mundo.

And how bold of Pixar to essentially pull the rug from underneath you in the cinema and deliver a film which is quite different from the one advertised – there’s plentiful adventure to behold in this film but also a really interesting meditation on family and obligation which the trailers didn’t exactly shy away from but certainly managed to undersell.

My favourite Pixar movie is “Ratatouille” but this glorious adventure runs it a close second – if you didn’t get to see it in cinemas, I heartily recommend picking it up and wallowing in master storytellers weaving a brilliant yarn.  I’ve not loved an animated feature as much since “How To Train Your Dragon”, which is high praise indeed.

"Fanboys?  Let them eat Mjolnir!"

“Fanboys? Let them eat Mjolnir!”

2) “Avengers Assemble”

Joss Whedon – the vindication!  You may have seen this film once or twice.  I saw it three times theatrically, a couple of times since on Blu-Ray (full disclosure – I own two copies of it, as the UK release ditched various features and a Whedon commentary track).  The culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s Movie Take-Over didn’t disappoint, pitting the cast of bickering heroes against a galactic scale threat and finding a way, finally, to bring the Hulk to thrilling life via Mark Ruffalo and some absurdly brilliant CG wizardry.

Whedon’s voice remained undimmed by the demands of the multiple characters – much to the chagrin of his vocal detractors – and he managed to miraculously balance the demands of mythology, actor screen time, the expected summer movie explosions-per-second ratio and his own fan base to deliver a superhero smack down for the ages.  If you ever read comics as a kid, this movie was pitched directly at you and realised in vivid detail those action figure battles you sketched out at eight years old in the school playground.

Plus, you know, Shawarma.

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers...

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers…

3) “Cabin In The Woods”

It really is better if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it, such is its puppyish determination to take what you know and love about horror cinema and then twist it, delivering a glorious, genre-warping ride which celebrates the scare-flick even as it places some of its more objectionable stylistic tropes under an exacting microscope.

Best ending of the year?  Quite possibly.

4) “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant...

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant…

The latest from Aardman Animation arrived in cinemas in the spring and departed with indecent haste, which says to me that a great many people didn’t get to enjoy this joke-stuffed, superbly inventive pirate adventure and that’s a great shame.  This is a hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant, staggering levels of detail crammed into each gorgeous frame of this stop motion work of art and a really infectious sense of off-kilter humour – it is, in essence, a Monty Python movie for kids and if that doesn’t recommend it to you, I really don’t think that there’s any hope for you.

=5) “The Woman In Black”

What Harry Did Next

What Harry Did Next

A genuine breath of swampy, slightly decaying air, “The Woman In Black” capitalizes royally on our fear of creaking furniture in quiet old houses, of unexplainable noises late at night, of the thing that you glimpse for a second from the corner of your eye and delivers a bone-chilling, restrained journey into terror which eschews gore for melancholy, substitutes atmosphere for flashy jump scares and shows the idiots cranking out PG-13, pseudo ‘found footage’ schlock just how to genuinely unsettle an audience.

Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead as haunted young lawyer Arthur Kipps, wrestling bravely with events that he can never hope to understand and confirming that his will be a long and storied career if he continues to make smart choices like appearing in this film.  He’s already an audience identification figure for a generation of movie-goers and this film trades on that, using his iconic, essentially decent countenance to draw us into a Victorian milieu which is swiftly and convincingly drawn as a stultifying and closed-off nightmare – Kipps’ job-stipulated stay in a possibly haunted, rickety old mansion seems positively inviting by comparison.

More scares per minute than any other film in 2012?  I should say so.

=5) “Resident Evil: Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like...

Not so much a film as cinematic DLC. Yep, a bit of a tough sell…

Suck it haters!

 

In dispatches, I should also mention the likes of James Bond adventure, “Skyfall”, Christopher Nolan‘s audience dividing but audacious trilogy-capper, “The Dark Knight Rises“, Peter Jackson’s little movie that could, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, genius bare knuckle, sci-fi adaptation, “Dredd”, gleefully daffy TV remake “21 Jump Street”, putative epic sci-fantasy adventure “John Carter”, vamps versus werewolves franchise entry “Underworld: Awakening“, Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe in “Prometheus”, addled fantasy revisionism “Snow White and the Huntsman“, mumble-core superhero fable, “Chronicle”  and Sony’s promising, web-slinging reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.

And 2013 brings us a new “Star Trek”, “Elysium”, “Oblivion”, “Riddick”, “Iron Man 3”, “After Earth”, “Pacific Rim”, “Ender’s Game”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from merely the Sci-Fi and Fantasy film spheres – there’s a huge movie at the multiplex seemingly every month and I’d guess that I’ll get to see a mere fraction of those titles at the movies next year.

Which is kind of where we came in, isn’t it?

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Tony Scott – In Memorium

 

Tony Scott, who died on August 19th 2012 in Long Beach, California. He was 68 years old.

If you’ll permit the indulgence, this is how I want to remember British film director Tony Scott, who committed suicide on Sunday:  On a film set, replete with his signature baseball cap, setting up some kind of practically staged set-piece, with mayhem about to be unleashed.

He was a director whose career and films arrived roughly in parallel with my love of movies – one of my abiding memories from my teenage years is of collecting tokens and sending off via mail order for a Top Gun movie poster, back when that defining Tom Cruise vehicle was the action movie par excellence of its day.

“Top Gun”, from 1986 – when films seemed simpler, even if the underlying politics were anything but.

Whilst a lot of the coverage of his death will focus on the way in which he chose to take his life, please forgive my preference to focus on his work and recommend some of his extensive catalogue of films which you might want to check out.

Scott’s movies were just that – commercial, unashamed action-thrillers and dramas.  Whilst his academic career seemingly set him on a path towards fine art, he duly found himself working in commercials – see his celebrated, iconic SAAB advert here, which largely influenced producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer to hire him for “Top Gun”.   His first film was the stylish, erotic and singular vampire drama, “The Hunger“, which underperformed in cinemas and led to a prolonged return to the ad world until Simpson and Bruckheimer’s Air Force drama pitched him onto the directorial A-List.

His career from there is the very definition of diverse.  He made modern classics like “True Romance“, “Crimson Tide” or “The Last Boy Scout“, and more eccentric, darker fare like “Revenge” , “The Fan” or the unique, one-of-a-kind Keira Knightley starring, profoundly meta bounty hunter flick, “Domino”, which is the very definition of an assault on the senses.

In recent years, he had formed a reliable working relationship with Denzel Washington and their collaboration yielded such films as the aforementioned “Crimson Tide”, “Man on Fire”, “Deja Vu”, “The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3” and their last film together, “Unstoppable”.

Weirdest car chase ever? I think this film is a candidate for that honour…

If I were going to recommend a film which shows Scott and Washington at their best, it would be the very underrated sci-fi thriller, “Deja Vu” – a mind-bending tale of time travel, terrorism and a love story which happens across multiple versions of reality.  Sort of.  It’s indicative of the way that Scott’s bravura style mellowed in recent years – the bullets still fly and the helicopters still zip around on-screen like hyperactive dragonflies, but there’s a human story at the core which makes the more elaborate action sequences somehow mean a bit more.

Period spy wranglings with Robert Redford and his latter-day matinee idol heir, Brad Pitt.

If you don’t like the sound of that, I recommend Scott’s desperately underrated and fantastic espionage drama, “Spy Game”, which applies his warp-driven visual style to the kind of low-key, introspective story which seemed apposite at the time but utterly thrives on the clash of styles.  Scott loved the inherently dramatic possibilities of a ticking clock and “Spy Game” is the very model of a story constructed around  impending cataclysm – veteran spy Robert Redford’s last day on the job is spent covertly trying to save the life of Brad Pitt, the spook he recruited whose execution is imminent.

Two arguing big lugs versus a runaway bomb the size of a football pitch – sounds like a party…

Scott’s last film is one of his best – the runaway train thriller, “Unstoppable”, marked his fifth film with Denzel Washington and one which deals brilliantly with the ticking clock motif (in this case personified by a train stuffed full of toxic chemicals, barreling almost unchecked towards a small town) present and correct and a pair of plucky, underdog blue-collar heroes in the form of Washington and Chris Pine who are the only guys who stop things from going boom.

I love movies which pit heroes against nature and eschew heavy firepower in favour of street smarts saving the day – the compelling thing about this story (nominally based on true events) is that it’s a thoroughly normal, not essentially heroic pair of guys who find themselves doing the right thing in the face of mind-boggling unlikely odds and with a boatload of personal baggage making their already crappy day worse (Washington’s seen-it-all before train driver is about to get canned by the railway company and Pine’s brash young buck is estranged from his partner and having child visitation access problems).

It’s bonkers, but oddly easy to relate to – there’s a purity about his last film which confirms that Scott was a master at diverting your attention from the cliches inherent in a premise and making the arguably shop worn story so compelling that you couldn’t deny it and were gripped throughout.

I loved a great many of his movies – he never made high art, but Tony Scott made Friday Night Movies Par Excellence,  filmic escapism which helped erase the woes of the working week for a couple of hours.  And there’s not much more that you can ask of a film director other than to make movies that people want to see, and sneak some of your personality in there too if possible.  He will be greatly missed by me – selfishly, I’ve lost one of the directors who made me love movies and going to the cinema.

 

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Month Late Film Reviews – “Snow White and The Huntsman”

There’s something to be said for going to the movies a little after everybody else has moved on to the new hotness.  The cinema is less crowded, as everything’s now gone digital, there’s no obvious degradation in image or sound quality and the ‘talk and text’ crowd are elsewhere: What’s not to like?

Well, it helps if the film was worth the wait and, in this case, I’m not sure that it was.

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I had been quite looking forward to this movie since the first trailers arrived and promised a fantasy-centric take on the fairy tale and subsequent glimpses at footage promised a film which isn’t entirely delivered by the end product.  British director Rupert Sanders certainly can deliver eye-popping special effects, decent action sequences and clearly works well with his cinematographer Greig Fraser – the imagery throughout the film is up there with anything that you’ve seen from Peter Jackson or Guillermo Del Toro (the latter influence being particularly evident in an encounter with a troll, which is right out of Pan’s Labyrinth‘).

Where this film really falls down for me is in the way that it betrays the logic of the story it has telling – though this is a fantasy flick, you might reasonably expect there to be some logical consistency at play somewhere in proceedings, as to suddenly ditch the rules of the world you have created betrays a certain lack of confidence in your audience or your tale.

Let me give the example which really rankled with me – as the audience, we find ourselves inhabiting a world where trolls, dwarves, magic and all manner of High Fantasy tropes wander the countryside in clear defiance of Him Upstairs and what organised religion would have us believe as the established order of things.   We get frequent references to Heaven and a central character reciting the Lord’s Prayer at one point.

We’re not dealing with a C.S. Lewis-like, heavily foregrounded religious analogy – we’re watching a story which desperately wants some of that sweet, post-“Harry Potter” fantasy cinema cash and yet gets scared enough of offending devout believers with disposable cash that it has to find some, wholly inconsistent way of abruptly jamming unwanted Christian dogma into a film not requiring any such addendum to work well – it’s so out-of-place that it genuinely annoyed me.

How Very Black Metal? None More Black Metal. Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna in “Snow White & The Huntsman”…

Besides, I can’t imagine many God-fearing families being that delighted with their carefully screened outing to the cinema when the film also tries to interject a rather better-handled and more interesting feminist subtext into the story – for the most part, I actually warmed more to the villain, Queen Ravenna, than the titular heroine, especially when we get a brief flashback to her childhood and events which offer context for her behaviour, whilst not condoning it.   She’s bad to the bone, but we can legitimately blame Patriarchal Royalty for the rot setting in and wholly buggering things up for the citizenry.  Huzzah!

So, to sum up – the story wants to be kind of feminist and yet God-fearing, whilst originating from an American media conglomerate who would be queueing up to condemn the desirable, simple-minded monarchy depicted as being essential to the well-being of a country in their product.  Yes, no confused messages there at all.  Ahem…

The acting’s reasonably okay, which is the biggest surprise that I took away from this film – Charlize Theron is superb as Ravenna, getting her teeth into the heavily costumed, frequently hysterical wronged queen and budding despot in a way that she wasn’t allowed to in Ridley Scott‘s largely bobbins disappointment, “Prometheus” (blame an underwritten role for that one).  She steadfastly dominates the screen whenever she’s appears,  in a turn which somehow bestrides the middle line between high camp and convincing character turn.

“You take the left 500 Twi-Hards – I’ll take the 800 on the right…”

She’s mostly matched by Chris Hemsworth, who is likeable if not always completely understandable as the unnamed Huntsman – he’s a chipper and convincing action hero in this foray outside the Marvel Cinematic universe and he does a good job of showing something of an arc between the alcoholic bum we meet at the outset of the film and the rather more engaged, focussed hero with a cause we see the climax of the film.  His accent, though, is utterly ludicrous – a generic Celtic mash-up hailing from somewhere between Melbourne and Glasgow and never quite settling in either for more than twenty seconds at a time.  It’s to his credit that this doesn’t detract from his other work in the role.

To Kristen Stewart, then – she’s genuinely quite good.  If the “Twilight” flicks have put you off watching her in anything else, try to get over that and give her a chance in this film, as she does the best accent of any of the non-Brits on show and makes for a pleasingly matter-of-fact fairytale heroine, low on vanity (everybody in this film has to cope with being soaked by a seemingly omnipresent, roaming rain cloud which is so prevalent in scenes that you expect to see it in the cast list somewhere) and high in earnest conviction.  She copes well with a dreadful, cod-Shakespearian speech which is meant to rally the troops at the end and instead just baffles – they all suit up and follow her, so I suppose it worked.

In the supporting cast, I should mention the likes of Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone, who assay your Seven Dwarves despite not being of applicable stature – there’s some serious, undercover effects wizardry at play in their scenes but the film doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with what is a daft amount of acting talent – if a sequel does arrive, we might hope that the makers find these guys something decent and worthy to do in it.

Overall, then?  Decent but not earth shattering – a high fantasy tale which seems a little embarrassed of its roots and wants to ground the action in an occasionally glum, realistic milieu which should help provide a comparison to the fantastic elements when they arrive but instead just helps to make the film’s identity that bit more confused.  Some decent acting and amazing technical feats are rather undercut by a script which doesn’t really have a concrete point of view – if I graded films, I’d probably give this a C.  There’s definitely room for improvement in many areas, which is what a sequel should set out to do.

And if they could avoid having the endlessly annoying Florence & The Machine on the soundtrack next time around, that would be quite lovely…

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Prometheus Shrugged, and you will, too.

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Quick version?  Ridley Scott‘s return to the Alien mythos is a mess.  I can’t think of a bigger disappointment that I’ve had at the cinema in years.

“Prometheus” isn’t a total wash-out but as a companion piece to Scott’s series-opening movie in 1979, it so completely fails to live up that movie’s enduring excellence that its existence can be owed mostly to Fox wanting a sci-fi summer blockbuster and Scott feeling that it was time to dip his toes back into xenomorphic murky waters.

The good parts?  Production design is amazing – the clean sleekness of the “Prometheus” ship is the reverse of the lived-in, grotty, ‘haulage vessel-in-space’ environment’ created by Scott and his craftsmen in the first movie but is no less convincing and eye-catching.  Similarly, the alien structures echo the past but somehow manage to be new and different enough to convince you that you’re not just checking out Giger off-cuts from 1979.

Effects are excellent for the most part – there’s a particular make-up job which I had some reservations about – and the sound mixing is amongst the best that I’ve heard in a theatre since, ooh, “Black Hawk Down“.  Yeah, Scott and his sound team know how to make your ears sit up and pay attention.

The acting’s pretty decent – with a single caveat.  Noomi Rapace‘s heroine, Dr Elizabeth Shaw is an excellent character study to join Sigourney Weaver‘s iconic Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley.  She’s a person of faith thrown into a conundrum which challenges her assumptions and sends her on a ride through a very demanding, quite personal Hell.  Rapace is captivating in every thing that I’ve seen her in, but she’s perhaps the single-best thing about this opening visit to the “Alien” universe.

Similarly, Idris Elba convinces as stoic ship captain Janek, as is Charlize Theron, who plays the traditional role of buttoned-up corporate weasel, Vickers and gets to add colours and tones of underpinning decency and humanity which previous emissaries of the Weyland company haven’t been allowed to show.  Michael Fassbender is also superb as the creepy, box-fresh, Peter O’ Toole channelling android, David.

On the debit side, Logan Marshall-Green didn’t do anything for me – his scientist character doesn’t really register next to Rapace and brought to mind the dreaded Matthew McConaghey during his frequent moments of shirtless pouting.  He may be a very fine actor in different material – but in this, he’s a set of abs with no discernible personality to distinguish himself from A.N. Other young male actor.

The biggest problem with the film is the screenplay – it just doesn’t have a very interesting story until the proverbial last gasp of the film.  The core theme – were we created by a divine being or by extra-terrestrial engineers engaging in inter-stellar DNA experiments? – isn’t dealt with particularly well and the exploratory tone of the first half of the film soon gets jettisoned in favour of the body horror and revulsion at human physical decay which we encounter in a lot of the series.

When the gloop starts to hit the screen my interest waned, particularly as the gore and grue isn’t as inventive or well-realised as it was in “Alien”.  There’s one particular scene – I’ll say the words ‘non-elective surgery’ and leave it at that – which was a trial to sit through.  In some ways, it may become the classic scene of this film but I found it messy and gross, if adhering closely to some of the memorable moments of the “Alien” sequence.

The ending is…okay, actually.  It promises a much more interesting entry in the series than this film delivers.  I’d rather that we skipped this movie entirely and cut-and-pasted the best bits of this film into a pre-credit sequence for that hypothetical sequel.

Oh, Ridley, what are we to say of this film.  If you’re an “Alien” fan, you would be daft to miss it, particularly on the big screen.  If the series means nothing to you, there’s every chance that you might see this film and wonder what all the fan boys have been wittering on about all these years.

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“Prometheus” reviews erupting from critic’s chests. Or something like that.

Yep, that looks a bit familiar…

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw has had his say.  And various French critics – via the shimmering space voodoo of Google Translate – have spoken forth, too.

The initial word on Ridley Scott‘s quasi-return to the “Alien” universe, “Prometheus”,  seems to be distinctly divergent, varying between mixed acceptance, exultant delight and grumpy disillusion.   Which is as it should be, surely?  I find myself never quite trusting films which arrive with uniform critical assent – no film can possibly appeal to all people, so why should we expect to see reviews which follow the same tone and cite identical positive factors and then expect those views to offer us an accurate picture of what we’re going to see?

Can a sci-fi hater treat this film fairly?  Should we listen to the views of paid-up members of the Ridley Scott fan club (I think I’m still entertainments secretary of that happy group)?  Or should we just be happy with the fact that Scott’s back in the SF zone and resolutely doing his own thing?

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Subterranean Parisian Promethean Blues

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Take one abandoned subway station on the Paris Metro, stir in a pinch of advance promo for an eagerly awaited Ridley Scott blockbuster and marvel at the results…

This kind of shizz never makes it up to my neck of the woods – I’m still steamed that I didn’t get a gigantic Avengers billboard near my work place (Dark Shadows gets one, oh yes, but no love for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) – and I can only imagine how cool/terrifying it would be to see a big old ancient noggin popping out at you as you make your way home whilst steadily being crushed by commuters on the ol’ Ligne 9.

Added to the excellent viral media campaign that Fox have been running for Prometheus“, some very smart people are probably going to succeed in the previously fraught goal of getting me to give Rupert Murdoch my money.

I mean, this kind of stuff is art, no?

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New “Prometheus” international trailer is spoileriffic!

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Don’t watch the new international (i.e. British) trailer for Ridley Scott‘sPrometheus“.

If you don’t want things spoiled before it’s June release, if you want to go in cold, if you don’t want certain plot aspects which you might have had a hunch about pretty much confirmed, be sure to avoid the trailer that I’ve linked to above – it’s got so much awesome sauce inside that it could melt your nerdy brain as much as it did for me.

No explicit statements of content but some pretty tangy hints that the sufficiently motivated could draw some conclusions from.

Just so as you know.

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