Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) movie poster

directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
viewed: 06/27/2012

First there was Paranormal Activity (2007), a found-footage style horror film set in suburban San Diego.  Then there was Paranormal Activity 2 (2010).  And then now there is Paranormal Activity 3.

Or maybe first there was The Blair Witch Project (1999), which ignited the fad of hand-held horror films made to look as though they were recorded by the pedestrian cameras of real people.

In the case of the Paranormal Activity franchise, while number two was a bit of a prequel (set very close in time but before number one), number three is set two decades earlier.  In the 1980’s.

Directed by the team behind the hand-held documentary Catfish (2010), Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Paranormal Activity 3 goes back to the childhood time of the protagonist sisters of the earlier films.  It’s suburbia again, though an authentically 1980’s suburbia (much detail was given to the decor).  But oddly enough, the video technology of the time is given a rather significant upgrade.  These images are not the degraded VHS that they pretend to have been shot on, though the cameras that they carry are big and clunky and the video tapes are from a now bygone age.

I have to say, I found that a bit off-putting.  In a sense, the style of the films, trying to look like real footage, you need to be as convincing as you can, working within the limitations of what someone might actually run around recording.  Obviously this was done at least so that audiences weren’t challenged to watch on the big screen a movie that looked like an old episode of  America’s Funniest Home Videos.  Though for any sense of verity (which these films have typically traded on for effect), it would have been necessary.

The film expands on the narrative of Katie and Kristi, the girls haunted by evil spirits in bland suburban homes.  In going back in time, it strives to tell “how it all started”.  And I don’t think I’m giving away much in saying that grandma had a coven.  The film follows the tropes of the first two, setting a “normal” family scene, a camera-obsessed husband/father, documenting hell slowly breaking loose.  And eventually things go crazy.  A little more so than before.

Joost and Schulman to ably with it for the most part.  The best sequence being a camera that they jerryrig to an oscillating fan, giving a slow, steady pan between living room and kitchen, which they use to good effect.  They also, I think I detected, make a vague reference/homage to the 1982 Poltergeist, oddly enough, a much more effective to this day suburban horror film.

The franchise is now a perennial.  A new one due in time for Halloween.  I’ve become nearly as tired of faux-found footage films as I am of 3-D.  But we’ll see what comes of it.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) movie poster

directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
viewed: 02/25/2012 at the Balboa Theater, SF, CA

I can summarize my feelings about the Madagascar franchise fairly simply: the main celebrity-voiced protagonists are weak,  but the side characters (the penguins, the chimps, and the lemurs) are all very funny.  This to its own extent is somewhat proven out by the fact that the penguins and lemurs got their own television show despite not being the more “famous” of the voices.  The narrative aspects of the films aren’t its strength.  The sight gags and slapstick around the lesser players can be a lot of fun.

In writing about Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008), I noted quite aptly that “The sum of the parts are better than the whole.  In fact, some of the parts are better than the whole.”

Case in point: Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, a manic phantasmagoria of animated nonsense, at times, remarkably funny.

I was quite surprised to see Noah Baumbach’s name attached to the co-writing credits.  I can only imagine that he was brought on board for help.  The story is weak, with the gang trying to get back to New York City and joining a traveling circus.  The new villain, Captain Chantel DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand) is very funny, a rampant huntress of a Monte Carlo animal control squad, who ruthlessly chases the creatures all over Europe.  There are indeed tons of very funny gags, like when the chimps are dressed as the King of Versailles, the penguins do just about anything, or even when Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) does his “circus afro polkadot” song.

As a movie, it’s awful.  But it’s quite funny.

Clara thought it was hilarious.

Pinocchio (1940)

Pinocchio (1940) movie poster

directors: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Norman Ferguson, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts
viewed: 06/23/2012

Walt Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio has long been my favorite of the original Disney feature films.  I’m far from alone in this.  The film is cited by many historians/critics/fans as the possible apex of the studio’s heyday.  It was the second feature film the studio released, following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and was produced during the period where Disney had hired up many of the best animators of the time and had set a standard for art education and quality that is resoundingly evident in the film to this day.  What brought me back to the film now was an increasing interest in “fantasy films,” a genre in which I had recently seen Pinocchio listed, and I realized that I had never watched it with Felix and Clara.

Though I’m not personally familiar with the source material for the film, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, it’s clear from some basic gleaning that even in his earliest feature films, which have also tended to be darker than later films, the “Disney-fication” of material was already in heavy use.  For its darkest elements, the film has softened the story a great deal and made everyone a lot cuter and more even-tempered.  While “Disney-fication” is synonymous with cloying sweetness, the fact is that in the hands of the master animators, the characters and the visual effects are superbly realized.

Interestingly, we had just seen Pixar’s new film Brave (2012) in the theater earlier in the day and for all its lush design and technical beauty, the new film paled in comparison to the Disney masterpiece of 70 years before.  The kids both really liked the film a lot, but Felix very clearly stated that it was a much better movie.

They were a little annoyed with Pinocchio’s incessant naiveté.  Carved from wood and painted then given life by the Blue Fairy, the kid was just “born yesterday,” after all.  Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Cliff Edwards) is a timeless creation, though admittedly, I grew up with him in all those wonderful “I’m No Fool” cartoons.  He’s imprinted deeply in my psyche.

The music has a number of stand-outs, from “When You Wish upon a Star” (now almost a Disney jingle) to the cute “Give a Little Whistle” to “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)”  and “I’ve Got No Strings,” Disney’s early penchant and success with musical numbers started with truly catchy and memorable music (before it became merely a color-by-numbers template for films).

But the highlight, the really dazzling aspect of the film, are the wonderful animation of scenes like Monstro the whale or the creepy Pleasure Island, where kids are turned into donkeys, stripped of their identities, and packed up for sale by black shadow figures.  The critique of the sins of life there include smoking, drinking, and shooting pool, but also fighting and vandalism.  It’s a moralistic tale, when you boil it down.  “Stick to the straight and narrow path.” or “Be good, or you and your whole family will wind up paying for it.”

Pinocchio is a remarkably beautiful film and a very enjoyable one.  And in my opinion, one of Disney’s best.

Brave (2012)

Brave (2012) movie poster

directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
viewed: 06/23/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

It’s all about the hair.

Much has been made (probably more by publicists than anyone) that Brave was the first Pixar film to feature a female lead character and the promotions have shown the heroine, Princess Merida, with her wild, super-curly red locks blazing abundantly in their lush kinky unruliness.   And what amazing hair it is!  It’s beautiful.  And it’s echoed in the hair of her father Fergus and her three wee wily brothers.  But it’s nowhere as verdant and magical as it sprouts and tumbles from the head of our hero.

Of course, the hair is a visual metaphor for the young princess who fires arrows with great skill and romps, impassioned about her personal freedom.  As much as her mother tries to teach her to be “ladylike” (hiding her hair in a snood and corseting her – a physical metaphor of constraint and constriction), the heart of the story is about an untameable spirit as wild and gorgeous as her luscious locks.

It’s probably Pixar’s greatest visual achievement in this lush and beautifully rendered animated film, those fiery curls.  Pixar is the gold standard among digital animation and while that extend beyond visual design and execution to story and characterization, it’s always more than evident in the amazing designs, details, and splendor of the rich, wonderfully rendered characters and worlds of their film.  And the hair.  Merida’s hair has a buoyancy and verve entirely all its own.  It’s as much a character as Merida herself.

For all its gorgeous eye candy, Brave is not as strong in its other elements as one hopes from Pixar.  It’s actually quite surprising that it’s taken them this long to develop a film around a female character considering their appreciation of the work of Hayao Miyazaki who has given almost all of his films to his female leads.  And then she’s a princess.  Pixar is owned by Disney, of course, who seems to demand an endless array of princesses for it to endlessly market to little girls.  No matter how independent and heroic a modern princess is, she’s still a princess.

The film is laden with Celtic-style music, as it’s based in Scotland.  Funnily enough, the kids were thinking it was racist that “everyone was wearing kilts”.  I had to explain to them that there is a difference between stereotypes and racism, especially when the setting is one in which variable historical suggestions are probably largely accurate.  But the music is a bit overdone and heavy-handed.

The film’s themes about forced roles for women are pretty obvious.  The story is about a girl who doesn’t want to be married off.  She announces that she’ll vie for her own hand in marriage, showing herself to be the best archer of the crowd.

The film picks up when she ventures out to an old witch to help influence her mother to her way of thinking, which unleashes a transmogrification from human to bear, the point in which the film finally kicks into gear.

And it does kick into gear.  In the end, it’s a good film, far more beautifully rendered than written or directed.  If only all parts of a Pixar film could live up to their animators’ skills and technical achievements.  Then Pixar would be as good as its gold standard.

The Woodmans (2010)

The Woodmans (2010) movie poster

director Scott Willis
viewed: 06/15/2012

Ghosts inhabit all photography.  Every moment recorded captures something now past, something by nature transitory and temporary, and describing it into eternity.  While this is perhaps a philosophical sensibility that doesn’t strike one upon every encounter with photography, it does, in other images, seem utterly “haunted” by a thing, a person, a place, something.  Particularly so in the cases of images of people who have departed this mortal coil since the image was recorded for posterity.

The photography of Francesca Woodman can seem haunted on a variety of levels.  Her untimely death, by suicide, at the age or 22 lingers over her obsessive self-portraiture inevitably.  A mysterious shadow.  Her images evoke other eerie qualities without this knowledge heaped on top of them.  Her work, largely in black and white, focusing often on her naked figure in contrast and consort with her scenery, a body often distorted or partially erased or hidden, in decaying or dilapidated buildings are recognizably within the Surrealist tradition.  They evoke on their own a sense of death or dissolution, dream-like impressions like unanswered questions that continue beyond the frame.

The documentary The Woodmans peers into her history by way of her family who survive her: her mother Betty Woodman and father George Woodman, both dedicated artists, as well as her brother, who also went on to career in art.   At first impression, her parents bohemian lifestyle and dedication to their crafts seem somewhat suspect.  Perhaps their passion for their art somehow superseded their roles as parents, in particular to what they seemed to prioritize.

But as the film follows through her narrative, it’s clear how devastating her death has become on them, changed them forever.  Their relationship with her art and her legacy is somewhat odd, competitive as they are to be recognized as important artists themselves.

The reality is that the enigmatic qualities of Francesca Woodman’s life and art are essentially unanswerable.  Who she was, what motivated her, if anything could have rescued her, all those are hypotheticals that one can only hope to guess between the facts, sense, suggest, infer.  Her art has gone on since her death to be recognized, collected, archived and considered significant.  Like so many artists who experience posthumous success, questions arise as to whether it is their death itself that triggered the interest.  Especially so with someone who died so young at her own devices.

The knowledge of her life and story are impossible to separate from her images, if you know it.  It doesn’t lessen their value, their efficacy, or impact.    There is always more to wish to know.  The Woodmans fills in some of the blanks.  Few, but some.

Night Train (1959)

Night Train (1959) movie poster

director Jerzy Kawalerowicz
viewed: 06/11/2012

After reading an article on The Guardian‘s website by Alexei Sayle about Polish cinema releases, I queued up Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1959 film Night Train to fill a gap in my cinema experience.  Outside of a handful of films by Krzysztof Kieślowski, I don’t know if I’d ever seen any other Polish films, though I was aware that there were some great films from this period.

Night Train is pretty awesome. Shot largely in the claustrophobia confines of a train, characters squeeze past one another, bump around, are thrown together in a noirish universe.  There is a murderer onboard, a man who has just killed his wife (but no one really knows who it is) or that he’s even onboard until the police stop the train in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and try to subdue him.  It’s not a suspense film in the Hitchcockian sense, though one could easily imagine Hitchcock truly enjoying this film.  The story and characterization are such that it’s not really clear who anyone is, as everyone seems to be harboring secrets and a desire for escape.

The main characters are Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) and Marta (Lucyna Winnicka), strangers who wind up sharing a sleeping compartment despite their desires to be alone.  Marta is trying to escape from a smitten stalker who is also on the train but in a cheaper carriage.   Jerzy is mysterious about his desire to be alone (could he be the killer?)

When the police pursue the killer from the train (with most of the other passengers on his heels), they chase him to a dark cemetery where they savage him.  It’s an eerie sequence with tombstones stark against the sky amid the darkness of the open nighttime landscape.

The film has such visual verve and as it’s so full of existential loneliness, these many passengers, so pressed together upon one another, strangers upon strangers, still all are very alone.  Very cool film.  Very cool indeed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012) movie poster

director Lynne Ramsay
viewed: 06/10/2012

Ouch this movie hurt.

Back in 2003 I was completely wow’ed by the two films by Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002) and eagerly anticipated her next film.  Ratcatcher was a harrowing film about a poor child in Scotland, while Morvern Callar was a harrowing story of a woman whose boyfriend overdoses on Christmas, leaving her to go on holiday in Spain on her own.  Harrowing but beautiful.  Ramsay started as a photographer and her strength was deeply embedded in the visual but also the experiential, stream of consciousness of a sort, impressionistic world, psychological landscapes.  Both films were incredible.

Ramsay wound up though in “development hell,” a place that filmmakers can find themselves in funding and financing their works, putting in hours, days, weeks, years into films that may never ever get produced, much less filmed and released.  It took Ramsay nearly a decade to come out with a film and I was, like others upon whom she’d struck such an impression, thrilled to hear she was back with a film.

And what a subject!  Adapted from a American writer Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, a novel that had had more impact outside of the U.S. than in it, despite the fact that it deals with an American family, most specifically the mother, and her demon child who becomes a spree killer.  The film stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of said child, and oddly enough John C. Reilly as her husband (one of the ultimate unlikely couples ever.)

The film opens with a surreal sequence of images that starts one off thinking that we’ve got another very non-traditional narrative film going on, something visual, visceral, personal.  Not to say that it is conventional.  But there is more “story” to impart here perhaps than in the other films so there winds up being more scenes and sequences with dialogue and character interaction.  And this is where the film goes madly, crazily wrong.

This is supposed to be a serious film about a mother who doesn’t connect with her child at birth (or anytime else).  It’s a child who hates her with an unending passion.  But to get these ideas across, the film takes on the feel of rather abject comedy.  Scenes in which she battles wills with the little beast are far more comic than tragic.  The whole thing begins to take on the feel of a Farrelly brothers film.  It’s far more funny than it probably means to be.

It’s atrocious.  Because of the mixed message coming across through the weirdly comic moments (i.e., as a toddler, the boy won’t roll the ball back to her, as a five year old poops his pants to make her change them and then does it again, the five year old squirts paint all over her specially decorated room).  Certainly, as a parent, we’ve all had maddening moments when kids refuse to cooperate and make us feel insane.  But it’s also vastly comedic.  Besides, the boy has not one iota of humanity in him (though only she can see this).  The point of this film is utterly lost.  The whole world blames her for the murders.  Why?  She didn’t do it.  Is he demon spawn?  Is there really anything she could have done?  Was it just her post-pardum coldness?

I have a friend who read the book and said that it was intense and unsettling.  The movie is nearly laugh-out-loud ridiculous and nonsensical.

I’ve read that Ramsay has some other interesting projects on the stove.  I hope it doesn’t take her 10 years to realize them.  I also hope that it doesn’t turn out to be one of the most ludicrous movies that I’ve seen in years.

Naked Lunch (1991)

Naked Lunch (1991) movie poster

director David Cronenberg
viewed: 06/09/2012

What brought me back to David Cronenberg’s 1991 film, Naked Lunch, was simply that I finally got around to reading the William S. Burroughs book earlier this year and was curious to see it again.  Cronenberg is one of a moderately small number of directors whose any work I would watch (or re-watch) because most anything they do (have done) is at the least interesting.  And the book itself, so far out, one of the “unfilmable” classics in American letters made me want to see what made it onscreen after all.

Of course, Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch doesn’t try to render the novel Naked Lunch into film.  Actually, it’s a sort of meta-story, incorporating other Burroughs novels, stories, and ultimately his own real life biography into an essentially science fiction head-trip narrative that really is its own thing more than any element of its parts.  Cronenberg apparently consulted with Burroughs on this at the time, who deemed it appropriate.  And fair enough, if the unfilmable is unfilmable, why try to film it?  Why not make up some fantasy take on the period of the text’s creation and call that a movie?

It’s a bit confusing if you don’t know that or know enough to know what is “borrowed”, interpreted, or what-have-you, especially if you think that much of it was in Burroughs original writing.

Peter Weller plays Bill Lee (a common pseudonym for Burroughs in his and others’ books), an exterminator with a wife who gets hooked on the insecticide he uses to kill.  His own experiments with the drug (a metaphor or stand-in for his real heroin use) sets him off into a world populated by giant insects or insect/typewriters who speak through an anal “mouth” on their thoraxes.  There are also Mugwumps, strange oozy creatures and the world of Interzone, a version of Tangiers on a movie set.

Judy Davis plays Lee’s wife, who he shoots in the head during an attempt at shooting a glass off of her head (while stoned), which references a real event in Burroughs’ life, which triggered his journey into writing.  She also plays the wife of Ian Holm’s character, a stand-in for Paul Bowles, evoking more Kafkaesque weirdness and drugs.

The elephant in the room for the film is the way it skirts Burroughs’ sexuality.  Naked Lunch the book is replete with gruesomely detailed surrealist sex, but a huge aspect of the text and subtext is Burroughs’ homosexuality and his deranged relationship with his identities.  Nothing is straightforward but it’s there in deep, seething detail.  Cronenberg adheres more closely to Burroughs’ heterosexual life: his relationship with his wife Joan but also his attraction to her doppelgänger in Interzone.  While his ambivalence towards his homosexual life is on display, it feels very muted and buried.  Cronenberg stated that he did this to reflect the times and attitudes of the 1950’s and Burroughs’ own ambivalence, but it does seem to miss a significant point of the book and the reality.

All told, it’s almost better to consider the film as a science fiction fantasy first, pulling elements of history or reality in, rather than taking it the other way around, which is how I think I came to it before.  Thinking of it as a twisted take on the content of Burroughs work and life, it seems more bastardized and lacking.  But seen with the eyes of someone who is following Cronenberg’s work in genre, with consistent themes, his animatronic creatures, oozing beings, distortion and corruption of the body.  His ability to have gotten talking anuses on large insects getting rubbed with intoxicants while they moan past the censors…well, that’s an accomplishment in itself.  And the film is certainly connected to certain aspects of the Burroughsian cosmology or logic.  And it’s doubtlessly an interesting film.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 06/09/2012 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

It’s easy enough to see how Wes Anderson’s films aren’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone.  Their intensely crafted worlds are fantastical fictions, ornately, intricately detailed, loaded with whim and whimsy.  His characters are characters all, not so much people as characters.  His visual style is idiosyncratic.  His stories, little wind-up dioramas, generally of a wistful East Coast Americana, a very largely Caucasian Americana, gleaning the cool and the weird into these strange pristine visions.

Derisively, he’s potentially very twee, cute, too clever, lacking depth, diversity.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and you really like Wes Anderson’s films, you might be watching a film, like his new one, Moonrise Kingdom, hungrily devouring the images as the whiz and bang by, trying to succor the details too refined for a single viewing.  As contrived as the characters can be, you utterly enjoy them, as contrived, but vivid, pleasurable artifices.  Anderson’s craze for schematics, details, maps, blueprints.  Every house is a dollhouse and can be traveled through room to room floor to floor as the camera eye declares.  And though, like his cast, like many of his themes and ideas, carries over film to film, it’s perfectly unobjectionable because who doesn’t love Bill Murray?

Honestly, I enjoyed the film thoroughly.  I took Felix and Clara because they had enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) enormously, so enormously, I was willing to give a shot to a non-animated version of Anderson’s hijinks.  Though I also thought that Fantastic Mr. Fox was fantastic and benefited in breaking from his characterizations by repopulating his world with stop-motion creatures.

Moonrise Kingdom takes place in 1965 on a fictional island off the coast of New England, in which an orphaned “khaki scout” named Sam (Jared Gilman) and a troubled girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward) run away together to experience some life on their own, away from their tormentors and disappointments.  The whole island gets looking for them as a massive storm approaches.  That’s about all you need to know of the story.  It’s a pre-teen love story.   It’s sweet.

I found myself thinking as the film was rolling past how wonderful it was to be watching a new Wes Anderson film, perhaps at the peak of his game.  It’s one of those odd positive emotional asides that strike me while watching movies, an awareness of the great joy of some things in their time, seeing them fresh, experiencing them new and of the moment.  It’s a joy that I’ve only else thought to attribute to Hayao Miyazaki in recent years.  In fact, I was sort of surprised how much I was enjoying it.

Clara also really liked it.  Felix didn’t care for the narrative breaks in which Bob Balaban, dressed in storm gear, addressed the audience directly.  One of my main thoughts, though, was how we could have been watching Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012), which had opened the day before and would likely have been the kids’ first choice had I offered it up that way.  I don’t mean to entirely denigrate the Madagascar series because I think they’re created some very funny characters.  But I much preferred sharing the quirky Moonrise Kingdom with them over the more blatantly child-friendly animation.

 

Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012) movie poster

director Ridley Scott
viewed: 06/08/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

One of the most anticipated films of the year, as if you didn’t know, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is the famed and successful director’s return to the science fiction genre in which he made his initial splash and arguably his most important and influential films in his young career.  But it’s not only a return to the genre, it’s a return to his specific movie, Alien (1979) (the first R-rated film that me and my sister were taken to in the theater), and the progenitor of a number of sequels and ultimately a franchise.

Prometheus is sort of a prequel, set in the same universe and timeline as the original film and its offspring, but decades before the events of those Sigourney Weaver-starring films.  Scott had somewhat coyly remarked that Prometheus bears Alien‘s DNA, as the stoked masses on the internet curiously wondered at what this film would be, what story would be that brought the English director, so commercially successful since, back to a genre that he had completely left behind for 30 years.

The coyness was less coy than it seemed.  The whole of Prometheus is infused with DNA from the opening sequence in which a marble-like hairless humanoid stands on a cliff, as a massive spacecraft flies away overhead.  The humanoid drinks some digitally activated concoction from a bowl and starts to have his DNA pulled apart (as we are shown through the magic of digital special effects).  He eventually tumbles down a waterfall into the depths below, being rended asunder at the mitochondrial level.

Millennia later, the present of the film, 2089, a team of researchers, led by Noomi Rapace, discover cave paintings that suggest giant beings had left a message all over the primordial world about a location enormously far away.  This inspires an expedition, founded by a corporation, to seek out the possibility that these beings are the engineers of the human race.  And the goal of the mission is to find them and find out why.

Though the film plays significantly with “the big questions” about human origins, it doesn’t necessarily do so with great depth.  Rapace’s character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, brings sincerity to the spiritually-infused seekers in the film, but if anything, the quest for answers only raises more questions, namely in the order of the built-in need for a sequel.  Still, in some ways, this is a gloomy, violent non-humanistic, non-spiritual The Tree of Life (2011).

While Scott cleverly asked his screenwriters Damon Lindelhof and Jon Spaihts not to tread down the same tropes and paths of his original film (or its overly trod tropes played out in its sequels), the film does have elements that echo of the series, namely an important, dubious android character (this time played by Michael Fassbender) and then a sort of reverse on the monster bursting from the sternum sequence.  I don’t want to ruin it for you but it’s the film’s most intense and gory (and titillating) sequence.

Frankly, as the film began, I was deeply engrossed.  It’s beautifully shot and while it’s been criticized as slow, I found it more than compelling.  Really, the first three quarters of the film felt like truly classic science fiction at its contemporary best.  Meaning, a genre film that actually follows traditions and tropes while feeling fresh and modern, but with that question, that curiosity of “where is this going?”  “what’s going to happen?” constantly pulling you forward.

My disappointment only came in toward the final twenty minutes or so, in which the quest for answers is boiled back into one of the oldest cliches in the book, the aging rich looking for a means of sustaining life eternally.  It’s not so much the simple cheap answer of that as the motivation of the human endeavor, the corporately-funded endeavor, but that it teases at so much depth that its reveal of its lack is rather disheartening.

Still, it’s a ridiculously thrilling ride for the most part.  Rapace and Fassbender are the standouts in the film.  And not to ruin it all for you but it’s clear that in a sequel, they’ll be the only ones coming back.

But that’s part of the bait-and-switch of the film.  Alien was a stand-alone movie, and even though I utterly recall contemplating sequels long before James Cameron came back with Aliens (1986), it wasn’t so crass as to build in (not even its DNA but rather its guaranteed template for) a sequel.  That said, I’m on board for Prometheus Two or whatever they call it.  I honestly enjoyed this film more than anything else new that I’ve seen all year, no matter how critical I’m sounding of it.

It’s still curious to me as to what really brought Ridley Scott back to not just science fiction but to Alien and Blade Runner (1982) (you know he’s working on some sort of sequel to that as well, right?)  No matter how positive one feels about Themla & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), or Black Hawk Down (2001) or any of the many commercially successful films that he’s made in the 30 years since he dabbled in genre, it’s clear from both fan base, cultural influence, and even critical studies that Alien and Blade Runner have been his most significant cinematic contributions.  Still, why?  Why now?  From what I’ve read, it took a while for the Alien franchise to die back down to make way for something like this, but to follow it up with a whatever he does with his other contribution to the genre, hot on its heels?  And will he do the promised sequel to Prometheus?

Much like the questions of the origins of humanity that are played with in the film, we’ll just have to wait and see.