27 February 2013

Hidden Hammer Delights!!

Hidden Hammer Delights
By Kristin Battestella

After being unable to find several of these elusive films from Hammer Studios in stores, streaming, or on the almighty Netflix, I was surprised to receive this Hammer Horror Series Franchise Collection set for Christmas. Though they may be lesser known Hammer fare, this quartet is worth the pursuit indeed for the horror laymen or the Hammer enthusiast.

Kiss of the Vampire – This 1963 side-quel in the studio’s Dracula franchise has all the expected color, gothic design, and vivid style of its compatriots. There are some interesting filming touches, camera angles, and good old Bray Studios again, too.  This uncut original 88 minutes has all its intended blood and juicy intact as well, and the foreboding music and turn of the century costumes complete the spooky atmosphere. Good screams, sexy chicks lying in wait for some fangs – it’s all almost enough to combat the run of the mill, good for background, looks like a Hammer Film casting. We feel for Edward de Souza (also of Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera) as the proverbial blood hits the fan, but the ensemble is just too British bland. It’s tough to make a Hammer vampire picture without any stars. Though creepy, the premise is typical as well –a honeymooning couple’s car breaks down before a dreary hotel and then a bizarre invitation to dine with the local noble of sinister repute arrives. There are pictures of folks who haven’t aged and a masquerade ball/cult scene, too. One would swear this was a recent movie! I know it sounds all flash and no substance, but the subtle religious hints and possibilities of vampirism as a disease or social club are intriguing. To modern eyes, the finale special effects might seem corny, but the conclusion is a fitting, intense, top shelf twist on this entertaining little piece.  

Nightmare – Oft Hammer compatriots Freddie Francis and Jimmy Sangster team up for this very moody and effective 1964 black and white thriller. Eerie music and smart uses of silence and diegetic sound accent the sixties styles, snow scenery, and mysterious country estates. Excellent light and shadow, candlelight and silhouettes also push the insanity fears, paranoia, violence, murder, and creepy ladies over the edge. There’s a wonderful, scream-filled flashback adding to the mystery, and solid suspense filming works for both the nightmare bizarre and the askew real world, too. Is crazy inherited? What does childhood trauma do to the mind? Or is there something else at work entirely?  Some of the screams might be a bit too much, and at first, one may think this is merely an extended Twilight Zone episode. However, some added kink keeps the audience wondering how far the terrors are going to go. The twists keep on coming for not one long Twilight Zone, but rather this invokes a lot of TZ-esque tricks woven together – and it works.

Paranoiac – Everybody’s swindling somebody and pulling over the wool in this 1963 suspense filled twister, another from director Freddie Francis and writer Jimmy Sangster. To start, the situations or red herrings may seem obvious or the premise standard – insanity, mistaken identity, inheritance, incest and all that given and taken from Josephine Tey’s source novel. However, the cast keeps it interesting, and wow Oliver Reed is so young! He makes for a great drunken playboy, of course, and Janette Scott (School for Scoundrels) is also honest and charming in what can so easily turn into annoying hysteria. The country house, classic cars, Old World décor, and sixties glam also work wonderfully with solid camera work and the black and white crisp photography. Contrast and shadow lighting also add to the foreboding, religious symbolism, and kinky crazy implications between Reed (Curse of the Werewolf), nasty French nurse Liliane Brousse (Maniac), and harsh aunt Sheila Burrell (The Six Wives of Henry VIII) – not to mention the suicide plotlines. It’s all a bit racy for the time, and although I don’t really see any Psycho connections, these people have every right to the eponymous paranoia. The creepy music hastens the puzzle, and the solid pace makes this one feel longer and deeper than 80 minutes. I’m surprised more Hammer fans don’t talk about this piece. Sure, it’s not uber horror and some scenes might be hokey now. However, the eerie atmosphere and dang good fright moments keeps this one entertaining.

And a Split Decision

The Phantom of the Opera – This 1962 Hammer adaptation of the oft-recounted Gaston Leroux tale moves the music to the creepy bowels of London and doesn’t star any of the studio’s more famous leads. Director Terence Fisher also strays from his usual flair with erroneous, herky-jerky camera zooms. A production like this should be a polished, colorful presentation, even a spectacle, not some misunderstood Phantom’s viewpoint cinema.  Surprisingly, Michael Gough is also on the nose as the slick and snotty Lord Ambrose, the rest of the cast is un-dynamic, the decrepit Phantom make-up is uninspired, and the obviously dubbed operas are a downer, too. This rendition isn’t so much a carnival musical as it is a macabre looking period piece with some stage numbers in it, and for 84 minutes, the pacing is slow and stagnant. Though the good scares and fright moments are too few and far between, there is some visual value in the quality turn of the century décor, top hats, gas lamps, velvets and lace.  Hammer completists or Phantom obsessed can enjoy this unique take – it’s flawed, but also must be seen for its dark interpretation.

The Hammer Horror Series Franchise Collection also included four more well-known Hammer Films. Feel free to continue with our previous reviews of the following:

25 February 2013

Men's Movies List!

A Men’s Movie List
By Kristin Battestella

Although I’m not often a fan of the sappy, sometimes I swing in the completely opposite direction for some knock down, drag out, action heavy man pictures!  Here’s a quick compilation of movies for boys who play hard with their action, sport, war, and classics. 

Airport ‘77 – An all-star cast – including Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Christopher Lee, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, and George Kennedy – adds even more nostalgia to this entry from the seventies transportation disaster franchise. Sure, it’s now typical of the early disaster flicks and we get plenty of those apocalyptic CGI blockbusters today. There isn’t a lot of character development either, and the equipment, mechanics, and ideology are out of date, too.  Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of fun here thanks to a unique mix of airline and aquatic dangers. The search and rescue half of the film feels more like a documentary or education short on the procedures and peril as one by one our stars have their moments. It’s strange to see some of these aged stars in their relative prime as well, but fans of the cast must see all the talent as they come out to play for this entertaining and often intense action yarn. 

Any Given Sunday – It took forever to get this one from Netflix, but I hadn’t seen this 1999 Oliver Stone football ode in a long time and wanted to watch the “Life’s this game of inches” heavy in all its glory.  Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quad, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, LL Cool J, Ann-Margaret, Charlton Heston, Aaron Eckhart, and many, many more in this A-list cast are all on their game as the great music, script, speeches, and quotes both bad ass and poetic highlight the lowlights of pro sports. Drug use, cutthroat contracts and betrayal, sex, media, medical malpractice – if it’s corrupt, it is here. Stone films his scenes as though they were fond memories or hyperbole sports recollections. The camera is both hectic, dizzying, and in your face in-game action and yet edgy, slow motion artistic. The editing captures the violent beauty on the field and the football as religion state of mind.  The lingo and style might be dated now, but the design smartly stays away from specific trends and is still very cool. Though long at over two and a half hours, fans can watch the enjoyable, over the top entertainment out of season or have this on in the background to spruce up a post game party.

Band of Brothers – I can’t say how many times I’ve seen this exceptionally photographed, multi layered, and award winning 2001 World War II mini series from HBO, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks.  The camerawork is both vivid, colorful, and intimate whilst also being grainy, old school, hectic, and epic. I’m sure there must be special effects, but the work is so seamless, it’s unnoticeable. Various story-telling concepts such as flashbacks and individual narrations are used to spotlight central characters per episode and this core helps focus the extensive topics surrounding Easy Company. Of course, everyone and his grandpa makes appears here, from main cast members Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Scott Grimes, Donnie Walhberg, Neal McDonough, and David Schwimmer to then unknowns such as James McAvoy, Simon Pegg, Colin Hanks, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and more. Everyone is simply delightful and downright touching as we meet the cast’s real life counterparts throughout the series. “Bastogne,” “The Breaking Point,” and “The Last Patrol” are outstanding, as is “Why We Fight.” I don’t like to see Holocaust material, but you know this is heart-wrenching perfection. There’s some dramatic license, sure; and language, nudity, and plenty of war gruesome will keep this one out of the classroom. However, this is perhaps as near-complete a war diary as one can see, and is there any group more legendary than the 101st? Wartime audiences might find a viewing difficult, but this show is delightful for military historians, as are the massive behind the scenes features and a dynamite blu ray transfer. Though I’d love to see a counter point series on a German regiment of note someday, the sentiment, action, and rah rah here is near impossible to beat. 

The Quiet Man – One never gets tired of this charming 1952 classic, and there’s no better time than St. Patrick’s Day to sit back with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in director John Ford’s idyllic ode to Ireland. The stunning vintage Technicolor scenery, Maureen as Mary Kate and her flaming red hair bellowing in the wind, the quaint townsfolk and their old fashioned ways, a bonnet left behind, the courting via a matchmaker, the withheld dowry, and the brawl to end all brawls. You know you were picturing it all!  Excellent support from Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerarld, and Ward Bond add to the chemistry, tenderness, and spitfire delights here. Yes, the issues facing 1920 Ireland are never felt onscreen, but the drama is feel good nonetheless. For those who haven’t seen this one and think Ford and Wayne are nothing but dusty old cowboys, you better think again!  All the boys in the family young or old can watch this Irish nostalgia again and again.

Titus – Okay, this 1999 Shakespeare gone bizarre cinematic blend won’t be for everyone. Not only is the anachronistic approach and tone a bit confusing, but the serious amount of nudity, violence, and gore are not often found in period pieces. Traditional Shakespeare enthusiasts might be put off completely by the change-up, and that’s exactly why non-fans of The Bard can love the freaky transitions, apocalyptic cool, and twisted ensemble of Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lang, Alan Cummings, Harry Lennix, Laura Fraser, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The dialogue is powerful and largely line for line from its source, and all the ancient justice and vengeance is heavy, modern, and fresh. Even the score was lifted for 300! Rapacious foreshadowing, off screen disembowelments – some of what you don’t see in Titus is quite frightening.  In fact, Shakespeare dynamos may actually enjoy this stylized spin along with the edgy layman – its risqué, mature, and disturbing as needed. 

23 February 2013

Voyager Season 4

Fresh Blood Lifts Voyager Season 4
By Kristin Battestella

“That show with the girl with the thing on her eye” – that’s how my mom still refers to Star Trek: Voyager. Although Seven of Nine would become both a blessing and a curse to this Trek spinoff, the character’s introduction here in Season 4 provides a much needed infusion of fresh ideas and adventures.

Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) reluctantly works with the Borg in order to save the Delta Quadrant from the fluidic space invaders Species 8476. The Captain and Holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) must work with the Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) after she is separated from the Collective and help her adjust to life as an individual on the far from home starship Voyager. Meanwhile, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) embark on a romance, and the crew says goodbye to one of the family.

“Scorpion II” is a bit of a let down from its Part 1 cliffhanger, and some of the weaker early episodes like “The Gift” and “Nemesis” seem like a step back from the conclusion of Season 3. Fortunately, the year does get stronger as it goes on thanks to the introduction of Seven of Nine, and the effects and mythos surrounding Species 8472 are also nicely done – even if the aliens are designed as a bit too insurmountable. Considering all their previous bads, the new Borg alliances are a leap, too. However, these are new, daring plots for Voyager, and it works.  The ship is further along in its journey and the traveling and encounters are much more realistic. It’s not ideal to a have lighthearted Seven and Harry Kim tangent mixed with the heavy in “Revulsion,” but this A and B plotting works better than most thanks to the hologram parallels by The Doctor and horror movie filmmaking, psychology, and peril.  “Year of Hell,” however, feels forced by default.  On one hand, you have an awesome two-part thrill ride that could have gone on for several more episodes as originally planned.  The possibilities are glorious and it all plays out wonderfully.  Unfortunately, all that magic and greatness is retracted by a big old reset button!  “Unforgettable” also starts with a nice premise but ends up dry and sappy. The audience knows this memory reset won’t stick and will never be mentioned again, so why should we even go there? There’s still a lot of potential and vigor here, but it is incredibly frustrating that Voyager is not willing to take the science fiction risks or make the Star Trek statements of which it is more than capable of doing.  Can you imagine how much more awesome the final ten minutes of “Year of Hell, Part II” would have been had it been a season finale?

Thankfully, “Omega Directive” is actually a fine spiritual episode. Even Starfleet realizes there is an atom out there that can create life or destroy civilization, and it’s lovely when the prime directive doesn’t apply for this rare, deadly perfection. Voyager does well with these weighty topics and multiple character pairings per episode and should do more of them. It’s nice to see which issues unite the ship family or create onboard discourse. “Concerning Flight” is also a cute little cross culture Leonardo Da Vinci adventure. It’s fun, yet thoughtful and entertaining.  Ethan Phillips’ Neelix has some fine death examinations in “Mortal Coil,” and Robert Picardo shines again for the serious Alpha Quadrant contact in “Message in a Bottle” and “Living Witness.” There’s great humor, rapport, and wisely used Romulan connections. “Hunters” is also a fine return-to-home pros and cons follow up, as is “Prey.” The second half of the season strikes a good balance in reminding us how Voyager got to the Delta Quadrant and why they want to get home. “Waking Moments” is a creepy bottle show, but a bit ahead of its time in discussing Inception-esque dream within a dream within a dream quiet and thoughtful examinations.  Likewise, “Hope and Fear” is a soft, dynamic finale. Voyager spends all its time getting our ship home, but it is intriguing to see just how much The Federation’s lone presence in the Delta Quadrant affects others – even destabilizes the region. Is that worth the price of getting home?
Of course, “The Gift” marks regular cast member Jennifer Lien’s exit as Kes. It’s somewhat iffy – did they write in those lost Ocampa psychic abilities at the start just to have an exit clause? We know she’s leaving, but the titular measure makes sense for the show.  The departure, however, does make for some strange motivations from Captain Janeway. She wants Kes to stay, but Kes must leave to help the ship and save herself.  By contrast, Seven does not wish to remain on Voyager – it might be best she doesn’t – yet Janeway forces her to stay and receive medical care she does not want. It’s out of character for the Captain, even unlikeable.  I’m also not sure about her new short hair yet, either. At first, it seems so much better than the stiff old bun. After the long ponytail, however, the chop feels older and makes Janeway look more rounded. The long hair was lengthening, commanding, graceful, not soccer mom.  I guess they’ve given up on trying to make Janeway attractive now that Miss Catsuit is on Voyager.  Perhaps the mom vibes and proverbial hair down gone casual family ship is the point, but the dysfunctional aspects of the family don’t stick. The rift between Janeway and Robert Beltran as her increasingly diminished second in command Chakotay in “Year of Hell” is quality, but sadly, their one on one conversations and debates at the time only work from scene to scene. Naturally, the conflict never seems to last, and the heavy for Janeway and Voyager is never as it heavy as it could be.  

Fortunately, that aforementioned introduction of Seven of Nine is a plus for Year 4. The step-by-step Borg design stages are nicely one in “Scorpion” and “The Gift”, however this cat suit thing is the freakiest thing ever! Perhaps as a non-teenage fan boy I never noticed it before, but the initial shiny silver leotard worn by Seven makes her look, well, deformed. She’s packed with pillows and boobs above a seriously skeletal mid section, and I swear they can’t show her straight from behind because there is a stick up her butt.  The look is clearly uncomfortable and cumbersome despite the illusion of being skintight and convenient. I don’t see how this appearance is appealing at all, but “The Raven” does far more in the exploration of Seven’s character and past. Her trauma is relatable and keeps Seven likeable – this is a journey to rediscovering one’s humanity, not a forced order from Janeway.  The brown jumpsuit is much softer and honest, not shiny silver kitten, and the look fits in with the fun Da Vinci holodeck in “Scientific Method.”  It is also very smart to utilize the interactions between both Seven and Tim Russ’ Tuvok in “Year of Hell” and The Doctor in “Retrospect.” Seeing these nonhuman characters facing dilemmas together is fine Trek material. Yes, the early episodes come too easy and Seven fits in a little too soon. “Retrospect” also unnecessarily messes with Seven’s head and has some plot holes. The ending is under written, even undone, but it doesn’t take the easy way out, and this quality SF adventure and character focus remains strong for Seven to finish the season in the “Demon” and “One.”  

Most of the players on Voyager take a backseat to the Seven development, but Chakotay is as limp and dry as ever in “Nemesis.” The language attempts and propaganda influences are a nice try, but it all lacks charisma and comes across more awkward than hard hitting. Thankfully, “Day of Honor” has some fine B’Elanna Torres moments. Maybe the space shuttle or space suit angles don’t hold up, but there are good steps in the relationship with Tom Paris here and in “Scientific Method.”  Some of it might feel forced plot-wise, but we don’t mind because of the genuine players. “Vis a Vis” is also a nice Tom episode, but I’m not sure why we are going backwards for a reckless pilot retread.  “Random Thoughts” is much better all around, with freaky mental crimes for Tuvok and Torres – an intriguing opposite pair that isn’t often explored. “The Killing Game” is also a very fun two-parter. It doesn’t incorporate a reset and leaves plenty of lingering possibilities. This is a very decent way to have period delights and Alpha Quadrant touches, too. It’s serious, but is an escape from the regular adventure. When Voyager takes the time and pace to go there and get the story right like this, it is a dang fine little show. 

Some of what makes Year 4 special does become overkill later on in the series, and the change in pace and format is apparent from the previous seasons, yes. The increasing focus on Seven of Nine and her 18 to 34 demographic bod may also give serious viewers cause to tune out from here on in. However, fans who tuned out of Voyager’s earlier seasons can begin a new here thanks to the character shake-ups and new storytelling elements.  

20 February 2013

Downton Abbey Season 3

Downton Abbey Series 3 is Kind of a Hot Mess
By Kristin Battestella

It’s Spring 1920 and Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) welcome the Countess’ mother Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) from America while the family awaits the birth of youngest daughter Sybil’s (Jessica Brown Findlay) baby with her political motivated Irish husband Tom Branson (Allen Leech) – formerly the Crawley’s chauffer. Family heir Matthew (Dan Stevens) and eldest daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) support Branson’s new role at Downton Abbey as well as middle daughter Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) new writing career – even if the couple disagrees on how Matthew wants to handle the financially in disarray estate. Unfortunately, sorrow looms upstairs and scandal brews downstairs between valet Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and ladies’ maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) as positions high and low are shaken to their core.

The Downton Abbey PBS premiere wastes no time in getting to the long awaited wedding of Mary and Matthew and Downton’s dangerous financial rumblings, but there are a lot of unlikable, on the nose developments to start Series 3. These rich people who can’t handle their money, the wrongfully imprisoned valet – it seems heavy but not much is actually happening. It’s all too dry, and the pacing this year is uneven, slow, even wasteful. Previously, it was almost blink and you miss World War I speed, but now, plots unnecessarily linger on unimportant soap opera moments. These internal timing issues become a serious problem when the meat of the drama feels skipped entirely. After almost a decade of onscreen waiting, the culmination of Downton Abbey’s biggest storyline is cut away at the altar. There’s almost enough wrong with Year 3 for me to not bother continuing. Thankfully, the downstairs character focus is much more pleasant – although the below storylines are also too uneven. Their goods struggle with mismatched upstairs plots across the middle episodes and become stretched too thin, and it all magically ends up tidy for the rushed cricket finale.  The so-called Christmas Special further puts everything under the carpet by being set a year post hence. In effect, this tacked on holiday makes it appear as thought the traumas of Year 3 never happened – they are fresh in the viewer’s mind, but long done for the characters onscreen. We zoom through the earlier seasons two or three years at a time, yet now we dawdle month to month per episode only to end up fast-forwarding again. You wouldn’t write a book with this kind of piss poor timing and skipped juicy – why is it okay on Downton Abbey?

Now, about that long awaited Mary and Matthew wedding. Matthew has really taken a serious downturn this season with all over the place character motivations and attitudes. How does this one supposedly golly shucks guy get the girl, come in to Downton’s entail, and get in line for another possible fortune? The bad dialogue between Mary and Matthew doesn’t help his unbelievability – more often then not I just want to skip over their WTF scenes. I’m surprised by the audience shock in his exit, as Dan Stevens really looked ready to depart Downton Abbey thanks to obvious foreshadowing and phoned-in scenes. Matthew is a bit better as the family go between for Branson – brothers- in-law sticking together!  Unfortunately, even that relationship is run into the ground by these uninteresting tenant subdivision saving Downton legalese library scenes. Naturally, it is Mary who really suffers thanks to this default, uneven, ham-fisted writing.  Once one who rallied against marrying for an heir, Mary the expectant bride and rushed mom falls completely flat in Series 3 – where is the mention of her Turk scandal? Bad jokes, supposedly tense financial talks, and guilt trip conversations won’t do for the players that were the cornerstone of Downton Abbey.  
Likewise, always on the verge of ruin Robert Crawley has become somewhat of a fool. He puts their fortune into a bad venture, cries over it, and gets more upset by what the county thinks about their business. Lord Grantham gives information on the estate to Mary, but objects to Matthew’s sweeping changes whilst also wanting his son-in-law to accept his new inheritance to save Downton. He claims they must keep the estate running for the community jobs, but if the nobles can’t handle the money, then maybe they shouldn’t have it!  The Earl gains points when he helps the folks downstairs, but that’s just as much about avoiding scandal as it is kindness. Countess Cora unfortunately takes a backseat for most of the season, but she is correct in making Robert accountable on all his bull and his asinine preference for nobility over honest doctoring. Of course, all their troubles are too easily resolved in one or two episodes, and the Christmas Special plays them as a darling couple against this out of left field Scottish cousin Shrimpie angst. Didn’t we just see these same marital troubles and financial ruins?

Thankfully, Dowager Countess Maggie Smith is again wonderful at holding onto the old school class and wit, and the sassy honesty of guest Shirley MacLaine is refreshing. Though she dresses jazzy and correctly calls the Granthams as shallow, Martha Levinson is not as over the top as I expected, and MacLaine might be playing herself in some of the shakeup for the sake of it. However, I wish we had more of her and Penelope Wilton’s formerly get your heads out of your butts Isobel Crawley.  Mrs. Crawley seems too detached from the main family thanks to her unspeakable work in helping prostitutes, but her sincere moments with the Dowager are very touching. Her scenes with David Robb’s Doctor Clarkson in the Christmas Special are also more appealing then the forced introduction of Lily James as young and wild Cousin Rose, and Samantha Bond deserves more as Lady Rosamund. Series 3 leaves so many better family relationships unexplored – these older statesmen reflecting on the past and the decade’s changes seems more interesting then these in your face or merry go round plots.

In fact, the Sybil and Branson storyline is better than the Mary and Matthew over the top mooneyes. Branson’s political views are certainly understandable, and this unwelcomed, raised up son-in-law is relevant and realistic. The hot bed class and culture issues create both honest problems and quality principles for the couple, and though difficult, Branson’s legitimate societal points make things like dressing for dinner seem unimportant. Not surprisingly, the family is flippant and rude to the couple, their high up friends are downright cruel, and the uneven season long writing ruins the good in Jessica Brown Findlay’s departure.  Her exit is stupidly handled onscreen, and it makes me wish there were just episodic upstairs events or weekly downstairs dealings on Downton Abbey instead of ongoing series plots. The intercutting of Brendan Coyle as imprisoned valet Bates and his legalities with Sybil’s arrangements is a mistake; the Christmas Special’s timeline changes and home alone Branson plot is another ridiculously awkward above and below misconstruction.  Haven’t we done this maid seduction crap three times already?  

  Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes complained that he was regrettably stuck with World War I, but at least there was real action to be had there. Now, in the hollow of 1920, Fellowes has backed himself into a corner with repetitive weddings and a yawn worthy Detective Anna on the case. I’m so, so tired of the Bates’ shuffling in a prison yard circle storyline, and Joanne Froggatt’s new lady’s maid Anna deserves more than boring jail visits. Much of Series 3 is too preposterous at this point, the jilting of Laura Carmichael’s Edith Crawley included. Her writerly aspirations and daring career woman potential can be done without unnecessary romance revisits. However, Edith’s plots should not be strung along via a mention or trip here and there, and certainly, she doesn’t warrant yet another time wasting heartbreak in the Christmas Special.  Jim Carter’s butler Carson also feels unnecessarily snotty in his heavy-handed wanting of the previous decade’s grandeur, but he’s still warmer than the Earl somehow. His wedding moment with Mary is better than with Lord Grantham, and Carson has a much more understandable resentment to the changing of the running of a household and the shaking down of old divisions. His unmoving style has a reserve and grace, and his babysitting in the Christmas Special matches the humanity of Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes. I would almost rather Downton Abbey be entirely about the low instead of high if we received the housekeeper’s touching illness worries; Sophie McShera’s pouting Daisy on a cooking strike; or Leslie Nicol as Mrs. Patmore dishing romance, wit, and loss with her dinners from week to week every week.

Indeed, the unexpected alliances and turned on their ear downstairs roles make for great stuff thanks to serious shade between Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien and Rob James-Collier as Thomas. Slick sabotage, innuendo, love triangles, scandal, and angst with new footmen Alfred (Matt Milne) and Jimmy (Edward Speleers) and kitchen maid Ivy (Cara Theobold) are far more interesting than the seemingly preferred Bates plots. I almost feel sorry for Thomas because of cruel period thinking on homosexuality, and his storyline might be the best one this season.  Likewise, Kevin Doyle as Molesley always seems to be made fun of, too, but I’d like to see a romance between him and O’Brien. The downstairs at play Christmas Special shenanigans are just much more fun then the bitching in Scotland.  The up top on Downton Abbey is just becoming too high up, even inhumane compared to how previous seasons presented up and down as one family united in crisis, an undivided household.  Now it feels posh for the sake of posh – burning coat tails and wearing black tie at the wrong dinner!  Oh my, no, anything but that! The topside Crawleys just don’t seem worthwhile anymore thanks to these increasingly lofty rehashings and the superior characters downstairs.

Where Downton Abbey began as a unique series, it has given way to increasingly relying on its period flash and Brit appeal. The costumes are great – a mix of the Edwardian classy and upcoming modern. There’s cars, bobbed hair, jazz, and yet, even my husband commented on how uber British and progressively over the top Downton Abbey is becoming. This bend toward the American appeal and British expectation is compromising the show – they make like we’ve never seen a cricket match before. Well, okay, we don’t get cricket every day. However, we do have soaps. I don’t mind soaps, I like a lot of the classic nighttime soap operas. However, I’m surprised folks pretend Downton Abbey isn’t an English telenovela. I feel harsh in saying it, but Downton Abbey being a soap isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that it has become an unevenly written and poorly timed episodic soap opera. You can have cast changes and big shocker moments without causing internal decline so long as your foundation is sound, but I’m no longer sure Downton Abbey has its storytelling at its core. I don’t see this series going on much longer so long as these obvious and tedious plots interfere with the period potential.  What ever happened to the pretender Patrick? Imagine if he was the real heir, the Canadian railroad investor who ruined Robert, and the mysterious Pulbrook in Swire’s will? I thought this was such an obvious Dickensian interconnected and ironic way to go, but instead, we get prostitute Ethel burning bread and meeting with her baby’s daddy’s parents again and again. Sigh.

Die-hard fans of Downton Abbey will eat up all the scandal and tragedy upstairs and down in Series 3. Despite poor pacing, writing flaws, and character movements, there is indeed still a lot of juicy entertainment to be had here thanks to downstairs heavies, period drama potential, love to hate players, and genuinely likeable characters. It’s a hot mess, but audiences can still enjoy the over the top panache in Downton Abbey Series 3.

15 February 2013

Voyager Season 3

Voyager  Season 3 Getting Good
By Kristin Battestella

After two lackluster seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Year 3 adds some quality guests, Original Series feelings, and fine two-parters for a not too bad little season. Eureka!

Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and the crew of the stranded in the Delta Quadrant USS Voyager leave their Kazon enemies behind while Vulcan Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ), pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Talaxian chef Neelix (Ethan Phillips) encounter previous friends and foes. Time travel, Ferengi, and the Borg don’t make Voyager’s long journey home any easier, either. However, Voyager’s holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) soon has life altering experiences of his own, as does half-Klingon Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) and the growing psychic Kes (Jennifer Lien).

“Basics Part II” is a nice little season opener, with ship intrigue, love to hate comeuppance for Martha Hackett as turncoat Seska, and primitive planet fun.I’m so glad to be done with Kazon, too.  After all, lingering on these factions just keeps a ship that is supposed to be moving at warp speed too stagnant, but thankfully, those impracticalities are replaced by solid SF adventure. The fine action and quality moments for Robert Picardo’s Doctor and returning guest star Brad Dourif might be resolved a bit too easily, but everything serves its purpose here.  Of course, too many frickin’ humanoid looking aliens with assorted forehead motifs and the Harry and Tom prison buddy episode “The Chute” hamper a bit of Season 3’s steam.  We haven’t seen that before, nope.  Again, these rehashings can just be too jarring and remove the hard built fantasy. Fortunately, touches of return to form Trek in “Flashback” are wonderful thanks to Tuvok and our Excelsior favorites. Okay, so it’s an obvious concept, but this re-watch, I’m enjoying Tuvok’s long-lived Vulcan dilemmas and adventure the most.  “Alter Ego” and “Blood Fever” also wonderfully explore the ship and family camaraderie versus holodeck solitude – especially when that inevitable Pon Farr comes around.  “Displaced” gives all the players their moments, complete with invasion, sabotage, and new action in the Delta Quadrant. It’s fast paced, has lots of quality effects and landscapes, and should be the ideal Voyager adventure.

It’s so nice to see all these fine character storylines mixed with good science fiction concepts, interesting themes, and heavy statements! Robert Picardo is again lovely in “The Swarm,” and the lightheartedness of “False Profits” matches with the heavy for Roxann Dawson’s B’Elanna Torres in “Remember.”  “Future’s End I and II” have fun time travel, top-notch action, a sweet Sarah Silverman (Wreck It Ralph), and a sleazy Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere). What’s not to love? One might joke that the entire reason for this double plot was to get The Doctor unrestricted from sickbay, but Voyager could have had more episodes dealing with the technological woes and abduction paranoia here. Imagine if Voyager and her crew were stuck in the right place but the wrong time for four or six episodes! Naturally, it wouldn’t be Voyager without a few loose bottle shows like “Macrocosm.”  Your ship is adrift with no sign of crew, an alien is afoot, and the holographic doctor is the last person you seek? This type of plot hole and iffy M.O. are those little holes that more often than not sink Voyager’s ship. Thankfully, Mulgrew is again delightful as Captain Janeway. Though I did like the bun, the Captain has literally let her hair down this season, and this ponytail in some small way signifies her distance from Starfleet and warms up Voyager. “Sacred Ground” does reach a little in its religious ideas with double talk and that anti-religion Star Trek feeling, but it is a solid Janeway exploration, and “Coda” is also a lovely Janeway retrospective. Bemusing spectacles with guests John de Lancie and Suzy Plakson also accent the historical action serious for Janeway in “The Q and the Grey.”    

Despite the significant improvements early on in Season 3, some characters are still showing their weaknesses, Robert Beltran’s Commander Chakotay and Jennifer Lien as Kes among them.  Ironically, “Sacred Ground” also has a strange misuse of Chakotay. After having Native American beliefs as his only attempts at character development, it’s odd that he is disbelieving his captain’s leap of faith instead of being spiritually interested. “Unity” begins as another pull the wool over on Chakotay show; however, it is a smart introduction to the Borg on Voyager. Is this separated collective doing its forced will for good any better than the assimilation and destruction of the standard Borg variety?  The debate here is just right, unlike some of the overused Borg complaints that plaque Voyager later in the series. “Distant Origins” and “Displaced” are also a fine pair discussing Delta Quadrant evolution from multiple angles. Who’s in the right place or the wrong way? We would think it would be Janeway tackling these strong SF spins and big character conversations, but it’s some of Chakotay’s best here. He’s not duped, speaks honestly, has all the facts, and tries to help someone. It seems corny, even insulting, that his finest is opposite talking reptiles. However, the advanced dinosaur concepts aren’t hokey at all – the science and effects look good. “Warlord” is a familiar tale with lots to chew, but it is a good break from the Kes routine before the weird long hairstyle and pseudo rebellious teen years hamper “Darkling,” which is otherwise owned by the Doctor gone crazy.  Somehow, the Ocampa go from nice little imps or elves to long blonde poofy and tight clothes hoochie. What happened?  

Thankfully, “False Profits” is good fun for Ethan Phillps’ Neelix. Even if you don’t love Ferengi humor and the reliance on Alpha Quadrant stories, the set ups are solid, the tie-ins are necessary to attract Trek fans back to Voyager, and Ethan Phillips always makes it worthwhile. By contrast, “Fair Trade” is a surprisingly dark Neelix foray – though I don’t want him to get too dark. His humor and softness is needed if everyone else is going to get heavy. I’m surprised there is never a mention of Tuvix, but Neelix and Tuvok are wonderful together in “Rise,” too. This episode reminded me a lot of Blake’s 7, and I kind of like the idea of Voyager as being confined, suspicious, full of dilemmas, pointing fingers, and arguing. The show pacings and occasional script confusions can make the series uneven, but the cast of Voyager is capable of this kind of meaty material. “Real Life” is another standout delight for the Doctor, but his plot is hurt by a meaningless phenomena B story.  

Some of the B’Elanna Torres meets Pon Farr twists feel a bit forced in “Blood Fever” as well, even if the Paris/Torres suggestions are intriguing. Their potential implications are done much better in the pleasantly backward “Before and After.”  This might be the first serious science fiction on Voyager. I kept asking myself, ‘How far is this going to go?’ Unfortunately, Garrett Wang’s Ensign Harry Kim gets the short end of the stick again in “Favorite Son.”  Harry being connived by women and wanted for sex is just a bit pretentious, and the copulation is all just a little too weird. At best, Harry solo episodes just aren’t that interesting. I’d much rather see an alien character slowly being diseased toward losing his alien makeup to become the human actor beneath the mask. Why fall back on evil sexy aliens? “Worst Case Scenario” provides these nice what could have been explorations thanks to a mutinous holodeck simulation gone awry. However, by the end of Season 3, it feels like we simply don’t see as much Tuvok or Paris.  Fortunately, everyone is on the same page and working together in the solid “Scorpion” finale. 

Voyager Season 3 is better than I originally remember. It’s faster and stepped up compared to the meandering first two seasons. In seeing this season now, one almost wonders why they changed things further for Year 4. Perhaps that forward movement was the natural progression of the quality created here, and the cliffhanger finale necessitates the continuation to Season 4.  One of this season’s few faults is the fact that it is not a self-contained year.  Were this pre and post not the case, new audiences could begin Voyager here. If the show had started with this new, exciting, fresh presentation and forward motivation, there would have been no need to change the series’ tone halfway thru.  Long time SF fans can delight in Voyager’s kicked up style, and new viewers or returning Star Trek fans can enjoy this largely unfettered Season 3.

09 February 2013

Old Comedies We Love

Comedies We Love
By Kristin Battestella

It seems like every It star of the moment makes a headlining comedy at some point in his or her career. Sometimes it is the tops of their portfolio, other times it is best left forgotten. Good, bad, dated, cliché, hokey but nonetheless quotable – here’s a quintet of comedies that we still love!

The Beautician and the Beast – James Bond himself Timothy Dalton (License to Kill) dons a mustache to play dictator to Fran Drescher in this hairdresser turned governess so annoying its charming 1997 comedy. In addition to the reverse New York fish out of water set up and a totally preposterous premise, there’s some stereotypical Eastern Europe designs and perhaps too many Jewish clichés, granted.  Every romantic movie staple is here as well – she shaves him, feeds him – even the big revelation at a ball where our titular gal looks the princess. Yes, Drescher is essentially playing Fran Fine in one supersized The Nanny episode. You either love or hate that voice and her tacky but wise and endearing style. Likewise, the social and political debates are a little on the nose and some of the quiet scenes with Dalton feel forced. Thankfully, some great quips and charming circumstances carry the viewer over the rough spots. Dalton is a lot of fun as the uber stuffy only to end up poking fun at the said stuffiness. It’s awkward, but I think it’s rather supposed to be – crisscrossed culture and all that.  The Prague scenery is pretty to look at, too. This one probably isn’t for everyone – fans of the cast only most likely – but it’s a fun time and actually a bit tough to find on DVD.

Big Business – Can two sets of mismatched twins turn New York on its ear? “Is a frog’s ass watertight?” Bette Midler (Beaches) and Lily Tomlin (Laugh-In) do double duty in this 1988 delight. From the opening Benny Goodman tunes to Midler’s yodeling – yes, yodeling – the zingers keep on coming thanks to wonderful support from Fred Ward (Tremors), Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys), Michael Gross (Family Ties) and an early appearance by Seth Green (Buffy). The girls are perfect as their opposites, too – the shoulder pads, that pink polka dot dress, the tiara, Dynasty, “It’s pod people!” The mistaken plots and twin twists are a riot. Of course, the fashions and the premise are old hat now, and some of the split screen effects are obvious as well. How many times is New York going to get all the laughs, too? There are no subtitles on the bare bones blu-ray edition either, which is unfortunate, as some of the eighties references and jokes might be beyond today’s audience. Adults will pick up on the innuendo, but families can have a lot of fun at the circumstances here. “What’s a cow flop, Mommy?” Predictability and flaws aside, if you haven’t seen this one yet, multiple viewings and memorizations are a must. 

‘Crocodile’ Dundee – Future lovebirds Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski (also of the just as good Crocodile Dundee II and the woeful Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles) steam it up in this 1986 romp from Down Under. Granted some of the Bushman in New York scenes don’t work today, the foreign slang will still be tough for some, and a few conversations are racially questionable. A lot of the music, styles, and customs are totally dated, too, and these typical explorations drag the middle of the film somewhat. Thankfully, there is still a lot of charm here, with great catch phrases such as “That’s a knife” and genuine onscreen chemistry. The classic New York scenery – World Trade Center alert – and wonderful Outback locales are also a lot of fun. Veiled subtext and hints of the politics of the time don’t get in the way, either, but multiple viewings are needed to pick up all the little gags and bemusements. Men can enjoy the skimpy eighties bra free fashions and healthy looking women along with the man’s man adventure, and women can delight in the round the world romance and escapism. Something for everyone, mate.

Straight Talk – “Get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!” with that line, this 1992 Dolly Parton (9 to 5) sleeper remains ever fixed in my mind.  The Oscar nominated Queen of Plastic songstress is all-natural here, and her graduation from dumb blonde to fun airwaves Dollyisms feels refreshingly genuine. It’s also pleasant to see James “Holy moly” Woods (Casino) as a washed up journalist and not the wicked villain. Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London), Michael Madsen (Species), Jay Thomas (Murphy Brown), Spalding Gray (The Killing Fields), Terri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives), and Jerry Orbach (Law and Order) also have wonderful appearances amid the mistaken circumstances and country bumpkin feel good, and it’s all accented by a few good tangos and original music from Dolly, of course.  There a nice morality as well – a touch of heart, truthfulness, and quiet moments that keep the story here much more mature and realistic than the recent Katherine Heigl romantic comedies or even the same old Meg Ryan staples. With bemusing witticisms such as, “I’m busier than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!” there’s no need to resort to foul language, bathroom gags, sex, or nudity. There are, however, count ‘em six montages and a dated job search that hamper the middle pacing and make the ninety minutes seem short. Despite the nice Chicago scenery, the fish out of water radio doctor swindle is somewhat commonplace, and the finale is seriously predictable with honking horns instead of the slow clap. Sure, Dolly is just being herself, but nonetheless this cute outing is perhaps her best lead work – an older charmer for slightly older folks.


War of the Roses – Pairing for the third and final time to date, Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, and director Danny DeVito poke fun at their previous Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile adventures in this dark 1989 divorce comedy.  All the creative domestic violence you need is here – from the standard throwing china and appliances mayhem to sauna dangers, almost cooked pets, and one tricked out chandelier. It sounds nasty, I know, but a sharp, innuendo loaded script is made all the more clever by the leads’ delivery, physicality, and divided chemistry.  Their grand house is the perfect setting for the fun and sexy suggestions, and the naughty gymnastics and other such “Bald Avenger” talk isn’t for kids. Sure, the wit instead of out and out sauce is probably tame for today’s audiences, but youths who can’t appreciate the evolution and devolution of marriage insanities won’t enjoy this movie.  Some of the age changes, time transitions, and hairstyles of the past may look iffy now, too. However, there is something to be said for the classy façade and decades old splendors. The stars are perhaps at their performance peak, and the derange package makes for an entertaining 2 hour crescendo. The DVD set here is also a pleasant surprise, with DeVito hosting some fun menus, a commentary, over 20 minutes of deleted scenes, storyboards, scripts, and more.

Who knew?

06 February 2013


Despite Its Flaws, Prometheus is Entertaining
By Kristin Battestella

“I feel like there’s a chest burster inside me.”

That’s what I said in the ER this past July when they asked me to answer their polite 1 to 10 point-at-the-smiley-frown pain scale. I didn’t know what was causing the increasingly horrible and unbearable pain beneath my right ribs. I could barely move, breath, or speak. I flailed my arms in pain and accidentally hit the nurse when she tried inserting my IV. Of course, this reminded me of one early hospital scene in Aliens, and later, after I clawed my husband’s hand and drew his blood, I said, “I guess this is what I get for going to see Prometheus!”

Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Greene) petition the Weyland Company to support their archaeological discovery: ancient civilizations each repeated the same astronomical pictograph and alien “Engineers.”  Shaw sees the pattern as an invitation to the stars and the origins of humanity, and the state of the art Prometheus disembarks to the distant LV-223. Only the android David (Michael Fassbender) is awake for the journey while the rest of the crew- including the doctors, Captain Janek (Idris Elba), and Company representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) remain in hyper sleep. Once they reach the moon, the human crew rises to search an ancient monument full of dead Engineer bodies, mysterious urns, and surprising familiar iconography.  As storms fronts approach on the surface and the crew separates, one by one their fates and faiths are tested, for these Engineers and their perilous DNA projects aren’t as dormant as they seem….

Plotting A Prequel Conundrum  

Whew! It turns out it was just my gall bladder going, but director Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction with this pseudo Alien prequel was certainly on my mind most of the summer. I’d been waiting over a year for the release – even remaining spoiler free into its approach – and obviously, it’s still on my mind now thru our annual Fasstivus viewings and Vassbender Valentines. The possibility of Alien’s back-story feels like its been in my subconscious for decades. I used to drive my father batty with speculation about how the crash on LV-426 happened, to where – or whom – that homing beacon was transmitting, and how the evil android Ash and the then unnamed but obviously money loving and corrupt Company were involved. Yes, most of these questions from Alien are not answered in Prometheus and that is this film’s blessing and curse. Some may rightfully dismiss Prometheus simply because it answers nothing beyond itself. After all, what’s the point if technically nothing gets us any closer to Alien’s mysteries? The connections and feelings are there, but it seems like Prometheus’ key elements are being spread out for its inevitable sequel or a completely new trilogy. It becomes both rushed in its foreboding yet too disjointed as the plots diverge and reveal. This almost feels like Alien 3, strangely, where one film had to suffice both its brooding horror and action SF predecessors. The internal pace is fine to start, with good cringe inducing moments and a horror styled pattern of storms and entrapped personnel. Though the deleted scenes were apparently cut for length and action pace, it feels as if Prometheus should have continued in this speculative science fiction or horror vein, with complete character intelligence and a scary food for thought.  

There is room to speculate on the alien dangers and high concept religion and faith debates. However, writer Damon Lindelof (Lost) also left serious plot holes, unexplained developments, and changed script scenarios in rewriting newcomer John Spaihts’ original treatment. Nothing short of having all the action taking place on LV-426 as originally envisioned would have appeased die-hard fans. Whether Prometheus was going to be a direct sequel or not, whatever storyline you finally intended to go with – all those decisions should have been settled upon rather than be left hanging in the film. Frankly, nothing – no creature connections, planetary aspirations, or character motivations – should have been held back in the hopes for a sequel. In the theater, I was screaming to myself that this film better dang be successful enough to earn a sequel, otherwise, this will really not just disappoint, but anger the audience. If you open Pandora’s Box, do so all the way.  Innumerable plot holes and character head scratchers and inconsistencies linger in Prometheus. Some of that is answered in the viral and behind the scenes material, but you can’t hinge the full vision of your film on the extras or sequels. Not only are the big spiritual topics not as deep as could be, but the intentional ambiguity is far too on the nose. I thought I was alone in wishing for more from Lindelof’s weak touch, but Prometheus takes the easy way out by dropping its high concepts for a typical big action ending. The first half of the film is brimming with foreboding and body horrors just like Alien, but unexplained secrets become plot contrivances and what should be hidden personal or family connections are too obvious. Perhaps a truly sophisticated slow science fiction morality tale can’t achieve success today, but it feels like Lindelof didn’t even give Prometheus a chance to try.  In the behind the scenes materials, he admits he found Alien boring, and no studio today will accept boring! If one can let go of Alien and accept that Prometheus is not a direct prequel and will not answer your long held questions, then it can be enjoyed thanks to great sets, thoughts, and performances.  Can a hardcore SF viewer accept the plot holes and screenplay mistakes? We don’t really have much of a choice until the supposedly in the works follow up is on the big screen.

Powerful Performances

Well, well, Michael Fassbender does it again! Perhaps his ambiguous android David wasn’t meant to steal the show, but his artificial intrigue and robot speculations are the best part of Prometheus. Though his questionable actions initially support the faith versus science explorations and romance between Shaw and Holloway, David’s seamless orchestration of the crew and events around him subtly exceeds his programming. Fassbender’s (X-Men: First Class, Shame) uniquely devoid wizard behind the curtain pushes and pulls in true Vader fashion, and this malevolent Data is almost like a synthetic child on the verge of sociopathy. David is hyperactive, told not to go somewhere or touch anything, but he continually disobeys any instruction – maybe it’s for his own purpose, maybe not. He’s androgynous and prepubescent, almost not physically developed or impotent and thus uses his superior intellect and the low opinions of others to gain control. Despite his not having emotions, Shaw becomes the twisted object of David’s affection, and he scientifically violates her in a slick and premeditated plot. It’s not desire as we would think, but rather experimental curiosity. It’s third party rape because he can, and thus in David’s mind, he should.  Thanks to Fassbender’s well-played deceptions here and in Prometheus’ viral campaign, there are times where the viewer might swear David damn well does have emotions, and this Pandora of possibilities is a tad frightening.  An android who wants to be like Lawrence of Arabia? There are no Laws of Robotics here, and it’s creepy to see David’s graduation from playing with alien bugs to using human fodder go unchecked – particularly when it is such a cold and logical step to him.  Without internal censors to curb David’s motivations and ambitions, his last shall be first realization that people are inferior is allowed to run amok and create Prometheus’ finest moments.

Naturally then, when Holloway belittles David, it is not only his own undoing, but it sets all of Prometheus’ events in motion. Rather than being the hero, Logan Marshall Green’s (Dark Blue) scientist comes off as big jerk thanks to script and character issues. He drinks because he is unhappy that he has discovered the existence of human progenitors on another planet. Huh? This writing faux pas ironically works in Fassbender’s favor. One might actually be sympathetic to David instead thanks to the way he is insulted or dismissed. The android is kind to Shaw, but her trust is betrayed and it makes for some fine work by Rapace. Noomi (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is up to snuff as our Ripley successor, oh yes.  Though younger than her co-stars, she may seem a bit too mature against Logan Marshall Green or too upscale European for American audiences. However, this edge is perfect for the deep, heavy, and spiritual Shaw. These beliefs drive her pursuit of science, but they should conflict – and her newfound alien discoveries spearhead Shaw’s reexamination of herself. It all seems kind of lofty or too high brow, but Rapace keeps Shaw likeable and believably kick ass. Yes, there are convoluted script moments and unrealistic post-injury scenes that do take the audience away from the character. She can run around alien planets and climb all over the place after that?! The lack of believability in the plot also takes a bit away from the awesomeness of her alien encounter, but no faults come from Rapace, and I look forward to more of her. 

I do, however, wish more religious connections were made out right between this trio. After all, we have a worshiped alien being birthed by a woman named Elizabeth after an impregnation orchestrated by a surrogate father. In keeping with the ABC android names of the previous films in the franchise, we have a D for David. But why the name David instead of any other D name? Was there meant to be some sort of Root of Jesse lineage and messianic message? It is Christmas aboard the ship after all, and the Shaw praying scene in the trailer was cut from the final film. One of the new creatures in Prometheus is also called a “deacon.” What exactly is all this religious iconography supposed to mean? Humanity is seeking out their alien creators and thus outgrowing their divine masters, and in some ways, David is doing the same thing to his human inventors. This ideological succession, oedipal shadings, and patricide hopes are touched upon in the script and chewed on nicely by the players when its given to them. The triumvirate keeps the entertainment and intelligence afloat for the audience, but unfortunately, the shaky foundations in the writing don’t answer these lofty questions. Had the cast been given complete character motivations and plot aspirations, nothing could have stopped Prometheus.

Poorly Handled Ensemble

Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster) is ice queen good fun as Prometheus’ resident secret wielding company representative, but there could have been a lot more to her character than what we receive.  If you think about Vickers’ background and motivation too much, too many nonsensical red herrings emerge. Her big secret is quite obvious, but whether she is a human or robot isn’t hardly addressed, nor is her alternating bitchy, sympathy, intelligence and stupidity. As with David, serious Scott fans could have had their hearts set a flutter by Vickers and possible Blade Runner connections. Unfortunately, as is, the character ends up meh despite Theron’s best attempts to counter the iffy scripting. Likewise, it is always a delight to see Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) and that therein is another big hole in what could have been Prometheus glory. I’m going to be nice and say the aging make up isn’t that bad – we just know it is Guy Pearce and would rather see him be the power hungry and creator- complexed young Weyland as seen in the Ted Talks viral video. Why couldn’t he have a pre-mission briefing instead of that weird hologram recording? That right there would have gone a long way in explaining all the characters and their reasons for signing on to such a space flight! The waste of creative character developments and potential is actually almost as in your face as Weyland’s actual not so surprise twist!

Although the supporting cast is most definitely talented enough, they aren’t given much to do beyond making mistakes or being barely there. Idris Elba (Luther) certainly has the presence to be the rogue captain of this wonderful ensemble, but his heroics and humor are so broadly written all over the board in crayon that we can’t fully care about Janek despite Elba’s charisma.  He’s devil may care but spiritually sensitive and cares about his crew and ultimately, humanity. However, Janek doesn’t give two shits about crewmen in jeopardy and doesn’t bother to ask what the mission entails. This isn’t multi-dimensional character development; it’s more like the captain is just a script placeholder to use whenever something is needed. It’s a sacrilegious waste of Elba, and Rafe Spall (Anonymous), Sean Harris (Outlaw), and Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones, Red Road – Did no one in this production see Red Road?!) become plot points for alien high jinks instead of being truly developed characters. 

Similarly, we never really get to meet the potentially charming Emun Elliott (Black Death) and Benedict Wong (Dirty Pretty Things), and there are even more unnamed disappearing and reappearing soldiers aboard the titular vessel. If we’re not going to spend some time with these crewmembers in order to know their fears or faults intimately in a slow build of apprehension and peril, how can the viewer appreciate them? Deleted scenes and alternate takes improve the troop slightly, but the audience never gets the feeling this crew is in it together, as in Alien or Aliens. Sure, we need a conspirator or two, but these folks are so divided, it seems like they each had different versions of the script from which to work. If you’re not fans of the players, it is tempting to fast forward thru their stupidity and squandered opportunities. As Prometheus is, this talent becomes padding for the body count in the final act. 

Positive Bells and Whistles

Fortunately, whatever you may think of Prometheus, it looks damn great, simply smashing. Instead of a dark and congested submarine – perhaps expected by our recent trends toward brooding, bleak, apocalyptic futures – the palette here is bright SF, with sweet looking, large-scale special effects and an imaginative ship design. It all looks sweeping, epic, and state of the art but somehow still natural and practical – a realistic progression and scientific advancement on our current technologies. There are some Alien allusions in the designs as well, and Prometheus does meld soundly as the mechanical precursor but 21st century offshoot to the franchise. Fortunately, the action scenes aren’t brimmed with unnecessary cool gadgetry for the sake of instant technological flash. The detailed and well-thought production here will outlast the in the moment product placements so often found in today’s films – remember all that MSN crap in The Island? Prometheus is not ‘sponsored by Sony’ in your face, and unlike the eighties 3D hurrah, there are no ridiculous foreground objects and actions thrusting at the screen desperation.  I dislike 3D and chose not to see Prometheus as such, however, you can still tell which swooping CGI effects shots are meant to be in the multidimensional glory. Thankfully, the exceptional Icelandic waterfalls and galactic scenery aren’t overruled or at worst ruined by the 3D as so many films are. 

Ironically, while writing this review, I received the Prometheus 4 Disc Collector’s Edition as a gift from my husband.  Of course, I’m not as interested in the 3D blu-ray disc as I am all the other critical bells, whistles, and special features.  I haven’t even gotten thru all the exhaustive behind the scenes interviews, production galleries, screen tests, commentaries, and more. Like the immensely detailed Prometheus: The Art of the Film companion book, alternate concepts, deleted scenes, storyboard ideas that didn’t make it into the film, and even those screen tests and viral videos all help to piece together a lot of the head scratching and character flaws in Prometheus.  The aforementioned video and several other blu ray and DVD editions are now available of course, each with varying degrees of special features. However, I thought it might still be amusing to share some of the quick notes from my original Prometheus Monday afternoon summer theater experience, for these trailer observations seem particularly prophetic now: “Frankenweenie looks dumb. Savages is too Oliver Stone generic, The Watch the usual comedy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks too action badass can’t see the forest for the CGI, and Rock of Ages has great music but what a crappy ass cast! I would see none in the theater and would not be surprised if some or all do poorly.”   Hehe.

There is most certainly an audience for Prometheus, and viewers should see it at least twice for complete entertainment value – even more for finite assessment. Love it or hate it, general science fiction fans looking for a return to mature, sophisticated tales can find something here, and Alien fans tired of the Predator crossovers should definitely have a look. Granted, the separation from total Alien connections and the “is it or isn’t it” on the nose marketing approach was a deception to audiences expecting complete franchise resolutions. That audience burn alone is enough to not see Prometheus. Again, those expectations both helped put people in the seats to pad Prometheus’ box office and hurt its reputation by disappointing longtime fans.  Because of these botched Alien connections and the fly by night scripting, a necessary sequel is indeed forthcoming, although I wish the powers that be hadn’t mashed up Prometheus in anticipation of a follow up film or two and box office splendor. Behind the scenes flaws and Alien relations aside, Prometheus is nonetheless entertaining for fans of the cast and science fiction lovers.