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Greatness eludes ‘Elysium,’ but Blomkamp is getting better

Film review

This film image released by Columbia Pictures-Sony shows director Neill Blomkamp, left, and Matt Damon on the set of "Elysium." The film, opening nationwide on Aug. 9, is a rogue burst of originality _ a futuristic popcorn adventure loaded with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, immigration and health care. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, TriStar, Kimberly French)

Associated Press image

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp directs Matt Damon on a set of “Elysium,” Blomkamp’s second big entry into the sci-fi genre.

Like his “District 9,” writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” is a worthwhile and entertaining but imperfect sci-fi venture in which Blomkamp takes the opportunity to inject social justice.

“Elysium” hits much closer to home here in the United States than “District 9,” which is set in Blomkamp’s native South Africa, did, however.

“Elysium” takes on at least four large American sociopolitical issues: immigration, class-based access to health care, the environmental degradation of planet Earth, and the phenomenon of the gated community, which is a euphemism for what actually are becoming privately militarized compounds as the filthy rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer and the rich want to keep the shit that they’ve stolen from us safe from us.

Set in the year 2154, in “Elysium” Matt Damon plays Max, a member of the poor working class in a future Los Angeles whose residents speak both English and Spanish. Most of Max’s companions, including his best friend Julio (played by Diego Luna) and his love interest Frey (played by Alice Braga), are Latino.

Like poor Mexicans attempt to get into the United States (although not nearly with the same frequency since the U.S. economy crashed and burned, like everything else did, under the watch of George W. Bush), poor and desperate Earthlings attempt, via spacecraft, to get into Elysium, the name of the gargantuan wheel-like space station that orbits Earth in space like the moon, and that like the moon, is visible on Earth. (The full backstory of the construction of Elysium is not given in “Elysium”; like the moon, it’s just taken as a given, which is OK, since we don’t really need the backstory anyway, since we already have a very good sense of how Elysium came to be.)

Protecting Elysium from the poor and desperate Earthlings who wish to reach it — the “illegals” — is the space-station plutocrats’ defense secretary, the sometimes-French-speaking Delacourt (an icy Jodie Foster) and legions of humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” (who even on Earth are deemed “illegals,” because they are not allowed admittance to Elysium) in line, mostly on Earth but also on Elysium should any of the “illegals” actually make it to Elysium.

Max, whose job is in a factory that manufactures the robots that keep the “illegals” in line, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while on the job — there is no OSHA in Blomkamp’s dystopian Los Angeles — and is given five days to live, and he finds out that Frey’s daughter has terminal leukemia.

The elites on Elysium have the automatized technology to cure a human being of any malady (as long as he or she is still alive, anyway), and Max’s underground associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who is a futuristic coyote, has a plan that could take Elysium down, and so the film takes off from there.

True, as others have noted, “Elysium” does go off the rails a bit, as it goes from a social-consciousness movie into a typical Hollywood action flick, but then, it more or less saves itself at the end, when it returns to its social-consciousness beginning.

Matt Damon carries “Elysium” well. He is a reliable workhorse of an actor. And as his own sociopolitical views lean strongly leftward, my guess is that he infused his performance with the sense that with Blomkamp he is furthering good causes (because, methinks, he is).

I found Jodie Foster’s performance, however, to be remarkably stilted and lifeless. I mean, she was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar and won twice. Foster’s character is supposed to be icy, I get that, but Foster nonetheless seems to have phoned it in. Some of this might be Blomkamp’s fault, however; as we get no backstory on or real development of Foster’s character, perhaps the two-dimensional portrayal is about the best that she could do.

And while Blomkamp apparently likes Sharlto Copley enough to have put the star of “District 9” in “Elysium” as well, Copley’s villainous Kruger, a mercenary who is on Delacourt’s payroll, is, as others have noted, over the top. Indeed, this villain, when compared to the other characters in the film, even that of Delacourt but perhaps especially that of Max, seems to have been cut and pasted from another film entirely… (Ditto for Kruger’s immediate associates, who also seem like refugees from a “Mad Max” movie.)

And like “District 9” does, “Elysium” suffers from some inconsistencies and some explanations that don’t make sense, as though Blomkamp hadn’t really thought all of it out.

The ubiquitous humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” in line on Earth suddenly go mostly or even entirely missing when the action moves from Earth to Elysium, and while our protagonists and antagonists battle it out on Elysium, I found myself asking myself, “Where the hell are all of the robots? They’re all over Earth, but they’re missing in action on Elysium?”

Apparently a “reboot” of Elysium’s “core” (its central computer) somehow is going to remove President Patel (Faran Tahir) — whom the right-wing, merciless Delacourt despises because she considers him to be too soft and too merciful toward the “illegals” (whose spacecraft she just wants to blow from the sky as they try to reach Elysium, without exception) — and, presumably, put Delacourt in the deposed Patel’s place.

How, exactly, the mere rebooting of a central computer would achieve that change of guard, Blomkamp doesn’t explain. Nor does he explain how the mere reprogramming of Elysium’s “core” to recognize all Earthlings as citizens of Elysium would magically mandate that all Earthlings automatically are to receive the level of medical care that the denizens of Elysium get.

I mean, it’s not like reprogramming a computer, no matter how powerful it is, is the same as reprogramming human beings. (That said, the craniums of the denizens of Elysium apparently are linked with implanted, wireless circuitry that at the least allows them to communicate hands free [Google and/or Apple is/are working on this right now, right?], and there is a character [a CEO whose corporation Max works for, played by William Fichtner] who, much like how R2-D2 held the plans to the Death Star, holds the plans to “reboot” Elysium inside of the small computer that is implanted in his head, where he has downloaded the plans, but, presumably, the over-privileged denizens of Elysium cannot be reprogrammed into believing that they actually had elected someone else as their president or that the destitute denizens of Earth suddenly now are their sociopolitical equals.)

Also, if we are to buy the central premise of “Elysium” — which is that the rich and the powerful tiny minority (the 1 percent, if you will) have fled the increasingly overpopulated, diseased and polluted Earth for their own mega-gated community in the sky, and that they have done this in order to protect and to preserve the limited, apparently scarce reserves of life-enhancing things for themselves — then how can we buy “Elysium’s” ending, which apparently portrays the 1 percent’s hoarded resources, or at least their hoarded medical-care resources, as being enough to serve at least the entire area of Los Angeles, but apparently even the entire Earth?

This does not compute…

Still, despite “Elysium’s” flaws, it’s a more than watchable film, it’s an improvement over “District 9” (and so Blomkamp seems to have a promising career ahead of him), and it’s great, of course, to see a mainstream film take a socialist-y stance on current hot topics such as immigration, access to medical care, environmentalism, and, of course, the ugly phenomenon of the gated community, which is but a manifestation of the insanely great class division that we see in the United States of America today.

I don’t expect American wingnuts to love this film, and that’s a great thing.

My grade: B+  

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‘World War Z’ needs braaains!

Film review

In this publicity photo released by Paramount Pictures, the infected scale the Israeli walls in "World War Z," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk)

The Cool Catastrophes of 'World War Z'

This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z." The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Zombies leap and pile atop each other like angry armies of ants in “World War Z,” produced by and starring Brad Pitt, but despite these impressive visual effects and a plot that has Pitt’s character jetting around the globe, “WWZ” overall is a fairly tepid entry into the zombie genre.

I walked into “World War Z” yesterday with one reviewer having stated that the film does nothing new with the zombie genre but with other reviewers (the majority of them) having stated that it’s an engaging, thrilling summer action movie.

Sadly, in a nutshell, my verdict is that “WWZ,” while watchable enough, does nothing significantly novel with the zombie genre.

I wanted to like “WWZ” more than I did. The zombie genre, done right, can be decent entertainment, and Brad Pitt usually doesn’t do shit. But “WWZ” won’t go down as one of Pitt’s best films or as one of the zombie genre’s best entries.

“WWZ” has some compelling special effects, such as its hordes of fast-moving zombies leaping and piling atop each other like angry armies of ants, but methinks that the proof that’s in the blood pudding is how the individual zombie is portrayed, and “WWZ’s” individual zombies aren’t very frightening, and “WWZ’s” lackluster zombie makeup effects break no new ground in the zombie genre.

Not that gore alone makes for a successful zombie movie, but perhaps one of “WWZ’s” chief errors, I suspect, is its producers’ decision to make a PG-13-rated instead of an R-rated zombie film. I mean, a G-rated zombie film would be considered something for kids, and so not very scary at all, so why would a PG-13-rated zombie flick be all that much scarier?

Indeed, far from being all that scary, most of “WWZ’s” individual zombies are (from what I can tell) unintentionally fairly funny. (My mate, who sat next to me, laughed throughout the movie, and laughed at scenes that very apparently weren’t intended to be comedic.) The tooth-chattering zombie, the zombie that Pitt’s character interacts with the most, I found to be creepy, but not scary, and zombies are supposed to be scary, especially in a movie that bills itself as a seriously scary zombie movie.

Further speaking of which, from what I can tell, the zombies in “WWZ” have no interest whatsoever in consuming human flesh — no, not even human braaains! — but have interest only in biting non-infected humans in order to spread the zombie virus. Perhaps that’s the best that you can do with a PG-13 rating, but yaaawn!

And while the whole concept of the zombie — a human being that is without a beating heart and thus without circulating blood and thus without any other functioning organs yet somehow nonetheless magically is animated — of course is entirely fantastical and not remotely scientific, it would be nice if “WWZ,” since it presents itself as interested in science and medicine, had strived for more medical and scientific accuracy in its portrayal of the viral-infection process.* (Spoiler alert: The material at the asterisk below is a mild spoiler.)

No virus, for instance, is capable of taking over the entire human body within a matter of seconds, and no virus can replicate without a living host, so of course a zombie, without even a beating heart, could not be a virus factory.

Didn’t early zombie movies just rely on voodoo or some other kind of magic or hocus-pocus as the explanation for zombification? When and why did viral infection become the new, unworkable rationale in the zombie genre?

OK, sure, I suppose, perhaps the fear of a Plague still lingers within the human psyche — large swaths of people have been offed in plagues during the past (and the plague of AIDS is still with us, and new plagues, such as bird and swine flus, have the power to scare us at least a bit today) — but even before “WWZ” we didn’t need another entry in the virally caused zombie genre.

And the “solution” that the heroes in “WWZ” find to deal with the zombies is less than credible and less than thrilling. (It’s so not thrilling that I won’t even bother to go into any detail about it; it would be a “spoiler” not even worth “spoiling.”)

With Brad Pitt’s involvement, you would have thought that “WWZ” would have turned out to be a smarter zombie movie. Instead, “WWZ” screams out for braaains!

That said, “WWZ,” regarded as typically mindless summer action-movie fare, is not entirely unwatchable. It’s just disappointing if you expected something more and something better.

I can forgive Pitt for this lapse — as long as he does not involve himself in a sequel.

My grade: B-

P.S. I found BBC America’s “In the Flesh” to be a fairly fresh take on the zombie genre, in case you are interested in feasting on such a fresher take — a take with brains (literally and figuratively).

*Indeed, the movie disappointingly kills off its most scientifically minded character quite early. Are we to take that symbolically as well — that without the scientist further in the movie there will be no further scientific orientation in the movie?

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Star Trek Into Spoilers

Film review

Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) interrogate the Osama-bin-Laden-like antagonist (Benedict Cumberbatch) of “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

I wanted to like “Star Trek Into Darkness” much more than I actually did. I even saw it in 3D at my local IMAX (I got a good discount, but still…).

This contains ample spoilers, so, if you are intent on seeing “Into Darkness” without any surprises/“surprises” being ruined for you, don’t read this now. Come back after you’ve seen it if you remember to do so. Otherwise, read on:

I won’t rehash the plot of “Into Darkness.” You can get the plot points anywhere else. I’ll just delve right into what works and doesn’t work.

I’m fine with the band of new actors who now play the characters from the original “Trek” series. I’m not a “Trekkie,” so this isn’t something like blasphemy to me.

That said, while Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock is good — although one might argue that it doesn’t take a great actor to play a character who, for the most part, is not allowed to display human emotions — Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is a bit flat and reduces the character to maybe one notch above a frat boy. I don’t remember the original Captain Kirk (William Shatner’s, I mean, of course) being this testosterone driven.

Indeed, the macho persona that is built around Chris Pine’s Kirk is driven into the ground. We get it already: He’s reckless. He’s a maverick. He loves a bar fight and he loves him some pussy — and it doesn’t even have to be human pussy. Please, give me Captain Picard over this shit.

The banter and bickering back and forth about Spock’s logic and reason and discipline and restraint and adherence to the rules and Kirk’s impulsiveness and maverickiness and his compulsive rule-breaking gets very tiresome, as we’ve seen this schtick countless times before in the original television series and in the films. “Into Darkness” doesn’t improve upon it — it only regurgitates it.

Yes, rebooting a franchise runs the risk of just repeating all of it because the film industry these days is all out of fucking ideas.

That’s the idea that you get when you discover that the super-human bad guy in “Into Darkness” (played by Benedict Cumberbatch as well as the character can be played) actually is Khan, the same genetically-engineered bad-guy character from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Only you — or at least I — didn’t get this right off the bat, because the British-born Cumberbatch looks nothing like the Mexican-born Ricardo Montalban.

I’m fine with some of “Into Darkness'” use of references to earlier “Trek” episodes, such as the appearance of the tribble, which, sadly, I found to be more effective than the cameo of the ancient Leonard Nimoy, who, I’m thinking, might still appear in “Star Trek” films even after his death (Spock never dies, right?) — but I found important plot points of “Into Darkness” to be blatant rip-offs of earlier “Trek” films.

Kirk saving the ship even though to do this he must expose himself to a lethal level of radiation was ripped right out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” only this time it is savior Kirk instead of savior Spock who is exposed to the lethal radiation, and therefore the touching scene in  “Star Trek II” where it’s a dying-of-radiation-exposure Spock inside of the Plexiglass enclosure and Kirk on the outside of it is just reversed in “Into Darkness.”

And Spock’s primal yelling of “Khaaaaaaan!” in “Into Darkness” is, of course, just a reversal of the moment in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” where it’s Kirk who’s doing the yelling.

I guess that this paean to “Star Trek II” was supposed to thrill “Trek” fans, but it made me just feel ripped off. It looked like incredibly lazy and uncreative screenwriting to me. I could have stayed home and watched “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” if I’d wanted to. I don’t see why the second installment of the “Star Trek” movie reboot had to take so much from the original movie franchise’s second installment.

Maybe there is hope for the third installment of the reboot, though. Recall that the third original “Star Trek” movie, subtitled “The Search for Spock,” was all about reviving the Mr. Spock who had died at the end of “Star Trek II.”

At the end of “Into Darkness,” Kirk is brought back to life after his death from radiation exposure in a quick-and-dirty, very apparently scientifically unsound manner (ditto for the revived tribble), and all is well, even though we, the audience, if we have two brain cells to rub together, feel ripped off by this all-too-easy, convenient wrapping of everything up in the film’s final moments — even if we can breathe a sigh of relief that the next “Star Trek” movie apparently won’t be subtitled “The Search for Kirk.”

Anyway, you have to earn a sappy ending, and “Into Darkness” just thrusts one onto us, like the creature in “Prometheus” homoerotically (but very sadomasochistically) thrusts its huge penis-like appendage down that humanoid’s throat at the end of that film.

Speaking of which, I’d had high hopes for last summer movie season’s “Prometheus,” too, which is why I saw it also in 3D at my local IMAX theater (only I got no discount that time…).

But what “Prometheus” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” have in common is that they both take source sci-fi material that once was very popular and successful and remix it, but not in a way that improves upon the source material; as I indicated above, they do it in a way that suggests that Hollywoodland is just all out of fucking ideas.

And both films put flashiness above originality and better-thought-out plot points, apparently believing that if the special effects are good enough, the audience won’t notice anything else, or at least will forgive anything else.

That said, as pure summer-movie entertainment (which, I believe, is meant to be fairly mindless by definition), “Into Darkness” is watchable, more so than “Prometheus,” because “Prometheus” (as I noted in my review of it last year) has so many inconsistencies in it that it had you leaving the theater pondering all of the shit that didn’t make sense.

“Star Trek” always has asked us to suspend our disbelief, so we are willing to be more forgiving for lapses of logic and reason in “Star Trek” fare than Mr. Spock might ever be, but there’s no fucking excuse for “Star Trek Into Darkness” to have ripped off “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (and even “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”) so fucking much.

My grade: B-

P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the political points and comparisons to recent history that “Into Darkness” very apparently is trying to make.

Apparently “Into Darkness'” Khan is supposed to be something like an Osama bin Laden — you know, Bad-Guy Terrorist No. 1 — and Khan’s destruction of a Starfleet military installation that is disguised as a peaceful archive apparently is supposed to be like the destruction of the World Trade Center.

So we have Kirk — your typical testosterone-fueled white guy — wanting to go after Khan and snuffing him, and you have Mr. Spock arguing that no, the law — and fairness and justice — require that Khan be captured alive and put on trial.

Khan is captured alive — although only because he allows himself to be — but after Kirk’s short-lived death that Khan at least indirectly is responsible for, a now-enraged-over-Kirk’s-death Spock goes after Khan with even more intensity and rage than Kirk initially had intended to go after Khan.

So what’s the message here? Are we to gather from Spock’s actions that it’s OK — indeed, that it’s probably preferable — to kill the “bad guy” out of a sense of outrage and revenge rather than to capture him and put him on trial? (I use quotation marks because at least in “Into Darkness” we learn that Khan has his own reasons for his “terrorist” actions, regardless of what we think of his actions and/or his reasoning behind them — much as with the case of Osama bin Laden.)

Are we to take from “Into Darkness” that Spock’s initial call for restraint is always, or at least usually, bullshit? That immediate militant retaliation is always, or at least usually, the best solution?

If so, what kind of message is this to pump out into the popular culture of a nation that, in no small part because of its popular culture, eschews intellectualism and restraint and prefers reckless violent retaliation (even if it’s “retaliation” against the wrong fucking party or nation) as it already fucking is?

And if you think that my comparison of “Star Trek Into Darkness” to current-day events and politics is a stretch, then why does director J.J. Abrams, at the end of the film, dedicate it to post-9/11 veterans?

Do Abrams and his three screenwriters view those who fought in Vietraq as heroes or as dupes? Or as duped heroes? I mean, since Iraq had had absofuckinglutely nothing to do with 9/11 or with Osama bin Laden, what can we say of those veterans? What can we say of veterans who were so incredibly misused, who essentially were used as stormtroopers for Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and for other subsidiaries of BushCheneyCorp (including, of course, Big Oil), whose intent was to gain no-bid federal government contracts for their war profiteering and, of course, to steal Iraq’s oil for the oil mega-corporations’ profits? Who are the good guys again?

I left “Star Trek Into Darkness” with the unpleasant feeling that perhaps J.J. Abrams meant it to be a statement of the moral superiority of the United States of America over other nations — a virtual recruiting ad for the U.S. military, even.

I mean, fuck, “Into Darkness” opens with officers of the Enterprise saving a planet of “savages” that don’t look different enough from the “savages” that the white man once “saved” here on Earth (these “Star Trek” “savages” even chuck spears at our so-called heroes, for fuck’s sake).

True, the character of the corrupt Admiral Marcus (played by former RoboCop Peter Weller) in “Into Darkness” demonstrates that not all of those in Starfleet are morally superior and advanced — indeed, the character of Admiral Marcus seems to be a stand-in for someone like Dick Cheney — but still, it seems to me, the take-home message from “Into Darkness” is that whatever the always-well-meaning U.S. military fucks up pales in comparison to all that it gets right, and “Star Trek Into Darkness” keeps alive the myth of the studly white man as the perma-hero to the extent that I have an idea for the title of the next “Star Trek” film: “Star Trek: The White Man’s Burden.”

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‘Alien’ meets ‘Tree of Life’ in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’

Film review

Earthlings from the ship Prometheus visit the ship of humanoid aliens in Ridley Scott’s epic “Prometheus,” in which Scott unfortunately bit off far more than he actually could chew. 

Warning: Contains spoilers (if you really could call them that…).

I’m pretty sure that my companion and I weren’t supposed to laugh at the final visual of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” but we did, and that very apparently unintended laughter from the audience member, I think, underscores what’s wrong with the film.

Before I saw “Prometheus” yesterday — in 3-D at an IMAX, the biggest and loudest way to see it, at least here in Sacramento — I had read another reviewer compare “Prometheus” to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” and while at that time I couldn’t see how that comparison could be apt, I see it now.

I wrote of “The Tree of Life” at the time of its release:

I get the impression with “The Tree of Life” that the 67-year-old Malick [he now is 68] had two films inside of him trying to claw their way out of his chest cavity like identical twin aliens a la “Alien,” but that he was concerned that if he didn’t put them into one film, he might not live long enough to get both films made, so he put both of the films into a blender.

Again, either of these two films probably would have been or at least could have been great, Malick’s ode to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (and to “Jurassic Park”) or Malick’s very personal (perhaps too personal) recap of his own childhood as an American baby boomer having grown up in Texas.

I also noted of “The Tree of Life” that “the story of the humans in ‘The Tree of Life’ probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

It’s kind of weird, in retrospect, that I mentioned “Alien” in my review of “The Tree of Life,” because now we have Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” which is like “‘Alien’ Meets ‘The Tree of Life,'” and the same criticism that I leveled of “The Tree of Life” is true of “Prometheus”: that “the story of the humans in [‘Prometheus’] probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

In the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” — and it’s a grand, origin-of-man opening scene that makes us think way too much of the grand, origin-of-man opening scenes of Kubrick’s “2001” and Malick’s “Tree of Life” – we have what appears to be literal cosmic vomiting, as a proto-human, humanoid alien apparently vomits his (its?) DNA onto planet Earth as its body disintegrates into a waterfall, further seeding planet Earth with its DNA, eventually leading to us human beings, which doesn’t make much more sense, scientifically, than the myth that Eve sprang fully formed from Adam’s rib. But if I understand “Prometheus” correctly (and can anyone?), Scott presents this as more or less scientifically plausible.

It’s fine to create your own cosmology, but your cosmology needs to make sense, needs to follow logic and reason, if you are presenting it as logical and reasonable. “Prometheus” is chock full of logical and chronological inconsistencies and contradictions. Were I to watch “Prometheus” on DVD and be able to stop and start it again, I probably could fill pages of notes of all of the shit that just doesn’t make sense.*

And that doesn’t make “Prometheus” deep and unfathomable. That makes “Prometheus” not very well planned out.

The acting in “Prometheus” is good, even though our heroine more or less is an Ellen Ripley reboot, and expect Ridley Scott and his army of technicians to sweep the Oscars with technical awards, and indeed “Prometheus'” ultra-special effects and BIGNESS do indeed draw you in, at least at times throughout the film’s two hours, and so as summer-movie entertainment, “Prometheus” more or less succeeds, but by trying to do way too much, and by not making much sense in the process, “Prometheus” lets you down.

The main problem with “Prometheus” indeed seems to be Ridley Scott’s outsized ego. “Prometheus” isn’t just the dude in Greek mythology who first brought the use of fire to mankind, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the name of the ship in Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film since 1982’s “Blade Runner,” and “Prometheus” isn’t just the humanoid alien at the beginning of Scott’s latest sci-fi film who apparently is the father (father/mother?) of all mankind on Earth, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the title of Ridley Scott’s latest film. “Prometheus” also very apparently is Ridley Scott — who wishes to remind you that he first brought the “Alien” franchise to mankind!

At age 74, perhaps Scott thought that “Prometheus” might be his last film, and so he had to make a splash. Ironically, it seems to me that had he tried to make much less of a big splash, “Prometheus” would have been a much better film, because it isn’t a big splash — it’s a big mess. A very pretty mess, but a mess nonetheless. With “Prometheus” Ridley Scott bit off way more than he could chew.

There are elements of “Prometheus” that I like. I like the proto-human, humanoid aliens, and I would have liked to have known an awful lot more about them, but I suppose that that would have been too much like “Star Trek” for Scott, and again, I have the feeling that we aren’t told more about these aliens not because Scott was trying to be coy (although I don’t rule out that he decided to save some details for sequels, of course), but because he actually never bothered to flesh out his cosmology for “Prometheus.”

Reviewers have been raving about Michael Fassbender’s performance as David, the android. I like Fassbender — he’s good in pretty much every role that he plays — but David is only a mish-mash of androids that we’ve seen before in the previous “Alien” movies and in many other sci-fi films. The protagonist juvenile android of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” also is named David, whose “daddy” is the CEO of a corporation, just like “Prometheus'” David is the ’droid “son” of a CEO. (The symbolism, I suppose, is that sculptor Michelangelo created his own David. Deep!)

Yawn.

And the theme of the robot who knows that he doesn’t have a human soul has been visited many times before, not only in “A.I.” but with “Star Trek’s” Data, of course. (To “Prometheus'” credit, I suppose, the android David apparently does not, in Pinocchio-cum-Data style, long to be a real boy, as does “A.I.’s” android David. “Prometheus'” David seems to prefer his status as an android.)

But why do almost all of the androids in the “Alien” movies have to be decapitated or cut in two? As I watched the talking head of David in “Prometheus,” I really could think only of the android characters of Ash and Bishop in “Alien” and “Aliens,” respectively, who were decapitated and cut in two, respectively, but who kept talking. Why couldn’t Ridley Scott have kept David in one piece?

And why did Scott have David deliver lines that are so similar in their content and even in their cadence to the lines that HAL delivered in “2001,” such as something along the lines of: “I know that we have had our differences,  [insert hero or heroine’s name here], but I can assure you that I am fully functional now”?

David’s being the only one “awake” for more than two years while the human crew were in cryosleep as their ship traveled to its destination (the Earth-like moon of a planet far, far away) on a mission that most of the crew members were not briefed upon until after their arrival at their destination also makes David too much like HAL and “Prometheus” too much like “2001” (as well as their grand opening scenes that retell how humankind came into being).

And for fuck’s sake, I love Guy Pearce, but if you have a character who is supposed to be an old, old man, why not just have an old, old actor play that role? (AARP, are you listening?) It’s taboo these days to put makeup on a white person and have him or her play, say, an Asian or a black person, so why is it OK to just put makeup on a younger man to have him play a Yoda-old man? (Age progression is different. Pearce’s character, the CEO of “Weyland Corp.” and the “father” of android David, is ancient throughout the entire film.)

Many reviewers have noted that “Prometheus” appears to be Ridley Scott’s attempt to take back the franchise that his 1979 “Alien” started, and indeed, the final, very apparently unintentionally risible scene of “Prometheus” — in a which a proto-“Alien” alien bursts from the torso of one of the proto-human, humanoid aliens — seems to be Ridley Scott fairly screaming: “See? I gave birth to the alien!”

Admittedly, the “Alien” franchise went off the tracks with its third installment, but “Prometheus” hasn’t put it back on track.

Gee. Maybe James Cameron can rescue the “Alien” reboot…**

My grade: B-

*You are demanding at least one thing about “Prometheus” that doesn’t make sense, so fine: Why does the humanoid alien at the end of the film, who, we are told, has been in cryosleep for at least 2,000 years, decide, upon finally wakening, that he still must fulfill his destructive mission on Earth? How does he know that the mission is still a good idea? Is it not possible that things have changed in two millennia? And even with the humanoid aliens’ advanced technology, how was he (it?) kept alive in cryosleep for two millennia?

Here’s another logical problem: The automated surgery pod that operates on our heroine — if it was programmed for male patients only, as we are informed, how did it cut open and then close her uterus? (Was the alien being in her uterus? She was told that she was pregnant, so I assume so.)

Here’s another problem: How can you actually reanimate the head of a humanoid being that has been dead for centuries? (And isn’t it repetitive? Ash the android’s head was reanimated in “Alien,” for fuck’s sake. WTF is Scott’s obsession with reanimated heads?)

And yet another problem: If the humanoid aliens’ DNA were exactly like Earthlings’ DNA, then why are the humanoid aliens hairless, pale (translucent, really) and huge? If the DNA were an exact match, wouldn’t Earthlings be giants, too?

There are many more inconsistencies and contradictions, but those are good for starters.

**Lest you laugh, Wikipedia notes that “Prometheus”

…began development in the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the “Alien” franchise, with both [Ridley] Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror film “Alien.” By 2003, the project was sidelined by the development of “Alien vs. Predator,” and remained dormant until 2009 when Scott again showed interest.

I am not certain whether Scott and Cameron were working together or were working independently on an “Alien” prequel, but I rather would have had Cameron make the prequel than Scott…

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Golden Globes gets it mostly wrong

Director Martin Scorsese poses backstage with the award for Best Director of a Motion Picture for the film "Hugo" during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

George Clooney poses with his award for best actor in a motion picture - drama for "The Descendants," backstage in Beverly Hills

Associated Press and Reuters photos

Martin Scorsese poses with his undeserved Golden Globe for best director for his overhyped “Hugo” in Los Angeles last night, and George Clooney poses with his undeserved Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for his role in the overrated “The Descendants,” which also unfortunately undeservedly took the Golden Globe’s award for best dramatic film. The Golden Globes snubbed Steven Spielberg, but at least gave the film “The Artist” the props that it deserves, naming it the best musical or comedic film and naming Jean Dujardin as the best actor in a musical or comedy for his leading performance in the film. (Below are pictured Dujardin, left; the director of “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius, middle; actress Berenice Bejo, far right; and Uggie the dog, far left.)

Dujardin, Hazanavicius and Bejo of "The Artist" pose backstage at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills

Reuters photo

I haven’t written a movie review for a while, although I see a lot of movies, perhaps especially at the end of the year, when the Oscar bait is trotted out to the theaters.

Since I haven’t reviewed most of this year’s contenders for the big awards — but have seen most of them — I’ll comment on last night’s Golden Globe winners for film.

First up is the movie that got the Globes’ award for best drama, Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.”

Yikes.

Payne has done so much better than “The Descendants,” such as “Sideways,” “Election,” and even “About Schmidt” and “Citizen Ruth.” That “The Descendants” stars Hollywood golden boy George Clooney and that its director has made better films doesn’t mean that “The Descendants” is worthy of being on anyone’s best-picture list, because it isn’t.

“The Descendants” has some nice visuals — it takes place in Hawaii — and I found the character of Sid to be adorable, but otherwise, “The Descendants” is overlong as it meanders and dawdles, with a plot that is mediocre at best and that never arrives anywhere, leaving its audience waiting for a point that never arrives. I give the film a “B-” at best. (Probably it deserves a “C” or “C+”, since I have little to no interest in viewing it ever again.)

“The Descendants'” competitors for the Golden Globes’ best drama were “The Help,” “Hugo,” “The Ides of March,” “Moneyball” and “War Horse.”

I didn’t see “The Help” because of its shitty reviews, and I have no interest in catching it on DVD.

“The Ides of March,” another George Clooney vehicle, while watchable, also doesn’t belong on anyone’s best-picture list. Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman give decent performances in “Ides,” but the script is mediocre and nothing novel, just a rehash of political movies that we’ve seen before. I give “The Ides of March” a “B-” or “C+” also. This wasn’t actually George Clooney’s year.

“Hugo” I found to be fairly entertaining but overrated. Even the wildly talented Sacha Baron Cohen as a quasi-villain couldn’t really save Martin Scorsese’s self-indulgent flick that turns out to be more about the French director Georges Melies (played by Ben Kingsley) than about our young protagonist Hugo. I found the whole automaton thing rather senseless and strange and uncaptivating, and films about filmmaking often are about as good as are novels about writing novels, it seems to me. (“The Artist” is an exception; more on that shortly.)

“Hugo’s” 3-D effects were decent, and the film overall is entertaining, although a bit too long, and overall “Hugo” was just overhyped. Martin Scorsese, contrary to apparent popular opinion, does not shit gold. I give “Hugo” a “B.”

I wanted to see “Moneyball” but never did, so I’ll have to catch it on DVD, but I did catch Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” which is far superior to “The Descendants.” My guess is that even if I’d seen “The Help” and “Moneyball,” “War Horse” still would be my pick for best drama from the list of the Golden Globes’ six nominees.

“War Horse,” which garners a solid “A”, is reminiscent of the films of yore (we’ve had plenty of films about World War I and films starring horses or dogs as our protagonists), perhaps especially with its ending scene, which (fairly) has been compared to “Gone with the Wind,” but “War Horse” works quite well nonetheless. I found myself teary-eyed at the end of the film, and that’s fairly rare. And despite the film’s length, my interest in it never waned, which I cannot say for “Hugo” or “The Descendants.” Steven Spielberg still has it.

The Globes unusually has a second category for best picture, best musical or comedy. I have seen three out of four of the nominees in that category. (Not bad, right?)

The nominees were “50/50,” “The Artist,” “Bridesmaids,” “Midnight in Paris” and “My Week with Marilyn.” “Bridesmaids” is the only one that I didn’t see, due to its lackluster reviews.

“The Artist” won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy, and I can’t complain about that. I saw the film this past weekend and it’s best-picture material, a solid “A” (maybe a rare “A+”). A film that mostly is silent and in black and white but can keep the audience’s attention nonetheless is an accomplishment. The protagonist’s heroic dog is a bit too reminiscent of the heroic dog Snowy of Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin,” which I saw before “The Artist,” but “The Artist” is a solid film with good performances and a captivating, clever script.

“The Artist’s” protagonist George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), a silent-movie star, at first is an annoying, spotlight-hogging ham but becomes more and more likeable as the film progresses, and protagonist Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo), also a movie star, is mesmerizing, although I don’t know that most starlets of the 1920s and 1930s looked like Bejo does; I’m not an expert on the films of the 1920s and 1930s, but she does look a little out of place. However, Bejo’s charisma more than makes up for that.

“50/50,” which stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, one of my favorite actors, also earns a solid “A,” but its material — a young man diagnosed with cancer — apparently wasn’t novel enough for it to win in its category. Still, “50/50” has some great lines and Seth Rogen does a great job as protagonist Gordon Levitt’s supportive-as-he-can-be best friend. (Unfortunately, in “50/50” Bryce Dallas Howard pretty much plays the same role that she played in the lacking Clint Eastwood vehicle “Hereafter.”)

“My Week with Marilyn,” which I can give only a “B” at best, isn’t a comedy or a musical, so why it landed in this category escapes me. Michelle Williams does as good a job as Marilyn Monroe as she can, but the film isn’t as compelling as it should be, and it’s not very believable that Marilyn Monroe essentially was a drugged-out bimbo who had enough occasional flashes of acting brilliance that an entire film could be cobbled together from these apparently brief and accidental episodes of talent.

“Marilyn” also suffers, I think, from being too self-referential. Again, the number of films about filmmaking that we’re seeing as of late seems to indicate that the filmmakers have run out of ideas, and so they’re now turning the camera on themselves.

“Midnight in Paris” would have won, I suspect, were it not for “The Artist.” Unfortunately, we’re used to good work from Woody Allen (although he’s made some lackluster films, too), and so he often unfairly is overlooked. “Midnight in Paris,” while not a complete departure from Allen’s past films, is a solid film that earns an “A.”

The Globes’ nominees for best director were Woody Allen (for “Midnight in Paris”), George Clooney (for “The Ides of March”), Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist,” Alexander Payne for “The Descendants” and Martin Scorsese for “Hugo.”

As I did see all of these films, I can say that I find Scorsese’s win for best director to be disappointing. He apparently was awarded for his past work, because “Hugo” doesn’t deserve best director.

We can cross Clooney, Payne and Scorsese off of the best-director list right off, which would leave us with Allen and Hazanavicius. I probably would have given the best-director award to Hazanavicius, as much as I love most of Allen’s work. “The Artist” is quite an accomplishment and doesn’t deserve less only because Hazanavicius is new to us Americans.

The Globes gave best actor in a drama to George Clooney for his work in “The Descendants,” another mistake. Clooney is popular — I get that — and he is a solid actor, but there is nothing very remarkable about “The Descendants,” which, next to “Hugo,” might be the most overrated film of the year.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see Michael Fassbender in “Shame” (it comes to my city later this month, and I like Fassbender, so I’m there), and, as I noted, I have yet to see “Moneyball,” so I am not sure if I would have picked Brad Pitt or Fassbender, who, along with Pitt, also was nominated for the Globes’ best-actor award. Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for his performance in “J. Edgar,” but that film (which I rather generously gave a “B”) is so flawed that it probably sank his chances, and I don’t feel that DiCaprio was screwed, not really. Ryan Gosling was nominated for his role in “The Ides of March,” but again, there is nothing special about that film, either.

I’m really fucked where it comes to the Globes’ nominees for best actress in a drama, as I haven’t seen any of the nominated perfomances, Glenn Close’s for “Albert Nobbs” (also arrives at my city later this month, and I’ll probably go see it, even though it seems “Yentl”-ish to me), Viola Davis’ for “The Help,” Rooney Mara’s for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Meryl Streep’s for “The Iron Lady” (which is getting lackluster reviews and which I’ll probably wait for on DVD), and Tilda Swinton’s for “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (which seems to be an awful lot like her role in “The Deep End,” but I love Tilda).

My guess is that Streep, who won the Golden Globe, will end up getting the best-actress Oscar again — only because she more or less looks like Margaret Thatcher. “Saturday Night Live” achieves lookalikes all the time, so really, so what? Word is that “The Iron Lady” fairly sucks, with Roger Ebert giving it only two of four stars.

The Globes’ best actor in a comedy or musical went to Jean Dujardin of “The Artist,” which I confidently assert was a deserved win, even though I didn’t see Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard” or the good-enough-but-overrated Ryan Gosling in “Crazy Stupid Love.” (Really, are Ryan Gosling and George Clooney the only two actors that we have left?) Joseph Gordon Levitt was quite good in “50/50,” and Owen Wilson also was quite good in “Midnight in Paris,” but neither of them, nor the two other nominees, had a snowball’s chance against Dujardin’s performance.

The Globes’ award for best actress in a comedy or musical went to Michelle Williams for “My Week with Marilyn,” although, again, “My Week with Marilyn” is neither a fucking comedy nor a fucking musical, and it was no super-human feat to doll up Michelle Williams to resemble Marilyn Monroe any more than it was to make Meryl Streep look like Margaret Thatcher, for fuck’s sake. It’s too bad that Williams wasn’t given a better script to work with.

I’ve yet to see “Carnage,” which garnered both Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet nominations for best actress in a comedy or musical. I am there when “Carnage” comes to my city, however; the previews look compelling. (I love movies that give us insight into dysfunctional relationships, which is perhaps why I like Woody Allen’s work so much, and I liked Winslet in “Revolutionary Road.”)

I also have yet to see Kristen Wiig’s performance in “Bridesmaids,” but I like Wiig, so I might catch her peformance, which also was nominated for the Globes’ best actress in a comedy or musical, on DVD. Ditto for “Young Adult,” which garnered Charlize Theron a nomination in the category.

The Globes’ best supporting actor went to Christopher Plummer for his role as a gay man who comes out of the closet late in life in “Beginners.” I give “Beginners” a “B+”, but I have to wonder if Plummer was given the award more for his past work than for his role in “Beginners.” I could argue that Kenneth Branagh, who also was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in “My Week with Marilyn,” was more deserving of the award.

The Globes’ best supporting actress award went to Octavia Spencer, whoever that is, for her role in “The Help.” I can’t imagine that Spencer was better than Berenice Bejo, who also nominated for best supporting actress, was in “The Artist,” however, and it escapes me as to why Bejo wasn’t nominated for best actress, since her role in “The Artist” is equal to the male protagonist’s. (I remember when Heath Ledger was nominated for an Oscar for best actor for “Brokeback Mountain” but Jake Gyllenhaal inexplicably was nominated only for best supporting actor, even though his role was equal to Ledger’s.)

The Golden Globes’ winner for best screenplay went to Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris.” It seems that the Globes wanted to recognized Allen’s film in some way and so gave it best screenplay, but arguably “The Artist,” which also was nominated for best screenplay, should have won. Why “The Ides of March” and “The Descendants” were nominated at all for best screenplay eludes me, as neither is a remarkable film in any way, and George Clooney doesn’t shit gold, either. Again, I’ve yet to see the also-nominated-for-best-screenplay “Moneyball,” but I can live with Allen’s win in the category.

The Globes’ best animated feature went to Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin,” the only film in the category that I’ve seen (the others were “Arthur Christmas,” “Cars 2,” “Puss in Boots” and “Rango.”) “Tintin” is a solid, entertaining film (I give it an “A” or “A-“), perhaps a little overlong but quite watchable, although, in my book, not as good as Spielberg’s “War Horse” (“A” or “A+”). Still, with “Tintin” it’s apparent that Spielberg hasn’t lost his talents, and I have to wonder if the dearth of nominations for Spielberg in the Golden Globes means that he’s going to be given short shrift with the Oscars, too.

Spielberg should have been nominated for, and perhaps won, the Globes’ best director, in my book.

I have plenty of films to catch up on between now and the Oscars, but thus far my picks are “War Horse” or “The Artist” for best picture and Steven Spielberg (for “War Horse,” not for “Tintin”) or Michel Hazanavicius for best director.

At least the Golden Globes ignored the sanctimonious-as-Scorsese Terrence Malick’s God-awful “Tree of Life” (which I gave a rare “F”), and hopefully the Oscars will, too, but the Globes overlooked Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” (which I give an “A” or “A-“, and which unfairly has been compared to “Tree of Life”) — a mistake that, hopefully, the Oscars won’t make.

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Worst. Oscars. Ever?

Oscars Live Report

Melissa Leo accepts the Oscar for best actress ...

AFP and Associated Press photos

The writers of this year’s Oscars ceremony couldn’t even make Anne Hathaway and James Franco in drag funny, and Melissa Leo’s accidental use of the f-word while accepting her best supporting actress Oscar was the biggest surprise of the evening.

I like James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and I had thought that they might actually make pretty decent Oscar hosts. I was wrong.

Much of it wasn’t their fault. The writing of the Oscars ceremony was for shit. Franco was unusually wooden, and Hathaway wasn’t as bouncy as I’d thought she might be. If she isn’t careful, the role that she played in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” — that of the rather empty-headed White Queen — might come to define her.

But again, most of it was the writing. There were too many self-referential (and unfunny) lines about trying to capture the youthful audience with this year’s show and too few funny lines, period.

That “The King’s Speech” would win the most number of awards was a given, so there were few surprises.

When the most talked-about element of the show is that the best supporting actress winner accidentally uttered the f-word on live television (which was bleeped out due to a few seconds’ time delay, apparently), you know that there’s a problem.

I like Colin Firth — he was great in “A Single Man” — but his performance in “The King’s Speech” wasn’t the best performance of the year. Javier Bardem did a much better job in “Biutiful.”

I like Natalie Portman enough, but her Oscar win for best actress for “Black Swan” wasn’t the best performance of the year. Jennifer Lawrence did a better job in “Winter’s Bone.”

“The King’s Speech,” to me, suffered mostly from weak subject matter. That a former king of England overcame a stutter isn’t very compelling material, which one of the film’s producers seemed to admit himself in his acceptance speech for the Oscar for best picture — he indicated that he’d been concerned that no one would find the material worthy enough to back its production and distribution, if memory serves.

“The King’s Speech” is well made — well directed, well written, well acted, well designed, etc. (indeed, virtually every moment of the film screams out “Give me an Oscar already!” [and this screaming worked]) — but do those things matter when the storyline itself is so ho-hum? Just as “truthiness” has replaced the truth, is “Oscariness” going to replace actual Oscar-worthiness?

Admittedly, I have yet to see “The Social Network” or “Toy Story 3,” but that these two highly commercial films, along with the highly commercial “Inception” (which I did see), won so many nominations, including for best picture (for all three), makes me wonder in what direction the Oscars are headed. That a film is a commercial success doesn’t automatically mean that it isn’t Oscar-worthy, but it seems as though the Oscars are becoming more like the People’s Choice Awards.

And the tech-emphasis-heavy Oscars, including not just so many nods to “The Social Network” and “Inception,” but even a mildly-funny-at-best Auto-tune segment, tried way too hard to be hip.  

And do we really need 10 films nominated for best picture when in the other major categories (actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and director) there are only five nominees? I’d like to see it reduced to no more than seven or eight nominees for best picture.

Finally, while I have no problem with Brits and Australians, the Brits and Australians on this year’s Oscars seemed to have outnumbered the Americans. Are we Americans this devoid of filmmaking excellence?

If we are, then maybe we should move the Oscars from Los Angeles to London or Sydney.

Just sayin’.

I consider the Oscars to be the “Gay Super Bowl,” and this year’s Gay Super Bowl was dismal.

P.S. Oprah Winfrey’s appearance on the Oscars was a little creepy — I once read someone refer to her as a corporation, and that’s fairly accurate — and ABC’s little corporate plug was offensive, but I do recommend that you see “Inside Job,” the winner for best documentary, the award that Winfrey announced.

“Inside Job,” about the Wall Street criminals who put our nation into economic collapse (um, yeah, it wasn’t the members of public-sector labor unions who did that), is a must-see, and I love the fact that the filmmaker, in his acceptance speech, pulled a mild Michael Moore and noted that not one of the Wall Street crooks has yet to see the inside of a jail cell for his or her crimes (which, in my book, amount to treason).

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