Monday, June 25, 2012

In Time (2011)

Andrew Niccol, you disappoint me.

In Time is a great concept:  we have the power to be immortal, so because of resource concerns, money becomes an allotment of time to live.  Next comes Robin Hood story, yada yada yada, the poor are saved from the rich, everyone happy ever after.  The end.  Simple, right?  Gonna be FABULOUS.  So let's make this movie.  

Nooooope!  The execution is just horrible.  This movie has some of the problems that I thought Gattaca had -- which I loved -- but taken to the Nth degree.  For one thing, there are too many chase scenes and the story is vastly oversimplified given the other technology made available to characters in the story.

Let's focus on the behavior of time trading for a second.  People can give time to each other with a handshake, and depending on whose hand is on top, the time is taken from one person and given to another.  A number of random issues arise here.  Like, for example, why is someone able to take my time down to zero at some crazy-ass rate of depletion?  Would anyone ever give anyone else so much time that they want just 10 seconds left to live?  It makes no sense.  You would think the minimum you could give to someone would be everything you have, but leaving an hour or two.

Ohhhh, but it's a plot device... I get it.  I just came up with a new rule.  Anytime moviemakers put in a ridiculous plot device like this, it should be made into a drinking game.  In the case of "In Time":  How many freakin times in this movie do characters get down to seconds left on their clock before they die.  Drink a shot every time you see it.

Then you have other technological issues.  They can all live forever with these time devices, but can be shot dead by bullets?  We're running out of resources so they have to ration time?  Why couldn't they just, stop eating?  If we have the technology to live forever, why aren't we on spaceships travelling for eons?  I don't expect all of these to be answered, of course.  Futuristic movies always have holes like this.  But I just don't think Niccol gives enough thought to all of these ancillary things when he devises these otherwise brilliant concepts.

The casting is also laughable.  Not one person could act in this film.  I actually like Justin Timberlake.  I thought he was great in The Social Network and think he's hilarious whenever he's on SNL.  One thing he is not, however, is an action star or a dramatic actor.  There's a scene in this movie where he's supposed to be mourning someone.  It's... pretty bad acting.  One would hope that someone would be paying attention when shooting it, in the editing room or dailies and maybe, you know, help the bad acting.  Not this time.  It makes me wonder if Niccol did not want Timberlake as the lead.

This movie is at least an hour too long, which is frightening because it's only 109 minutes -- meaning it really only has about 49 minutes of good material.  That might fill up an episode of CSI: Miami if you're lucky.  Niccol, do you ever go back to watch your own movies?  The concepts are great but they get pretty boring at times.  Let me just set a scene for you that illustrates this:

  • Timberlake and what's-her-face are on the run, shot a cop, etc.
  • They hole up in a hotel room
  • Later, they proceed to be all lovey-dovey and... wait for it... play STRIP POKER.
Now, I don't really care if characters in movies play strip poker when I'm not trying to watch a movie and they aren't running from the police.  But if this is your idea of character development it's ridiculous.  Yes, they fall in love.  We get it... we got it 35 minutes before this scene.  And who the hell is on the run from the police and takes time to mess around playing strip poker?

I ended up watching the final third of this movie with subtitles on and at 4x speed.

JSS RATING:  Bad/Bad movie.  I have no idea if Andrew Niccol intended this to be one of his good movies.  I suspect it originally was, but then they bundled JT into the picture and it became kind of a mindless action flick (i.e. "bad").  Such a great concept, and it never paid off.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

I went in expecting to be let down.  I was let down.  I had lowered my expectations to being so low that I thought if this movie was anything better than 2 hours of black screen, I'd be happily surprised.  I was still let down.

First, let's talk about money.  Supposedly this movie cost $130 million to make.  Add on the immense marketing budget and it probably was $200 million out the door.  Congratulations, it will make that money back.  But you know what else $130 million gets you?  A full year's worth of HIV/AIDS medication for poor people in California.

I'm not going to claim moral equivalence in those two, or say that money spent on making big budget movies is a waste.  No way.  I'm just saying that if this is the end result in 15 years of waiting for an Alien Franchise sequel (prequel), then that money would have been better spent somewhere else.

And what can you cut?  Visual effects.  Virtually unnecessary for this plot.  I'll come back to that in my spoiler section.

What I really should have started this article with is pointing out the problem with prequels.  Prequels require homework.  The later story has already been established, so the foundation set up here has to be rock solid.   Like another famous disastrous set of prequels, this movie takes major missteps with the basic mythos of the franchise.  I'll get to that in the spoiler section, but here are some examples from Episode I, which if I'm spoiling for you at this point, you should be happy for never having suffered through it:

  • For three excellent films, The Force was unexplained and magical.  In Episode I, the Force is caused by midi-chlorians.
  • Anakin Skywalker--besides being an annoying child actor far younger than Natalie Portman that had no relevance to anything in Episode I except being annoying--aka the man destined to rule the universe as Darth Vader--accidentally saves the day at the end of the movie.
  • Anakin Skywalker was an immaculate conception.
  • I could go on and on about that piece of shit.
When I say "prequels require homework", it means exactly what I say.  You can't do hand waving.  The questions left unanswered must be answered in full and be reasonable to be satisfying for the audience.  Prometheus does a tremendous amount of hand-wavery and thus is not satisfying.  If it was in no way connected to Alien/s, it might actually be a decent stand alone film.  But it is connected, and that's what makes it an abject failure.

This guy makes an awesome prequel, amirite?

A prequel that does everything right is The Thing (2011).  The director and/or writers were clearly huge fans of the 1982 film.  The movie connects together with the original perfectly:  even getting the placement of an axe correct.  I, too, am a huge John Carpenter fan and have seen that movie dozens of times, so these are the things that made that prequel extremely satisfying for me.

Maybe the worst person you could have make a prequel is the original author/director/writer.  They are too close to the original material, so they don't closely study it the way a protege might.  In Lucas's case, any one of the dozens of crazed Star Wars fanbois I'm friends with could have called bullshit on those movies had they gotten the chance to review it.  Even Shyamalan could have made a better prequel.

Same here.  Ridley Scott may have been the perfectly wrong person to make this prequel.  Right from the first shots of the movie, he's trying to connect us back to the first film.  Fog machines in space ships?  Really, Ridley?  The film holds together to do what he intended with it.  But those intentions were so misguided that instead of getting a strong story about how we got to LV-426, we mostly got a bunch of religious garbage that did not add up.  That is, unless they anticipate making a sequel to this prequel, which I pray they do not.  Get it... PRAY?

JSS Rating:  Bad, Good movie.  It was supposed to be good, but was actually bad.  Ridley Scott could be the top Bad, Good director if I bothered to review his other movies.  But, for now, Robert Zemeckis will have to keep that crown.

----- And now the spoilers -----

People are passing around links breaking down this movie like it was really deep and thoughtful and complex.  It was anything but.  This is no Inception.  Prometheus is extremely straightforward, albeit with symbolism that most people won't see (including myself, since I am no Greek mythology expert).

Prometheus has a great premise:  that the beings who created us were related to that gunner dude we saw in Alien.  AWESOME.  Work from that.   Then they tried to get too smart.  They took that and made it allegorical.  Christ being the reason the Engineers wanted to kill us (ship was 2000 years ago, multiple crucifix discussions, etc).  Oh and wait for it... immmaculaaate conception!!!!  Who didn't see that one coming when Shaw was crying about being barren.   This movie is proof that when you run out of good ideas, turn to Christ to fill in the rest.  Just like the Wachowskis.

But none of this was definite.  It's all allegorical, right?  Nothing was answered for us definitively.  And that is why we were left severely dissatisfied as an audience going to a prequel.  Why wasn't the gunner dude in his place at the end of the film?  Why was anyone able to escape?  Why wasn't this on LV-426?  Why did the alien shot at the end -- which seemed thrown in there to connect this AT ALL to the other movies other than the name Weyland and the shape of the alien craft -- look so different?  

Most important:  why did no one in future movies have any knowledge of this mission?  They worked for Weyland.   This movie took place only about 5 years before the Nostromo was constructed and 25-30 years before the Alien movie.   Surely they would have known what this mission was for, right?  You would think that this mission would have been an important milestone in the Weyland history and somehow it would have come up.  You know... like Luke being Darth's son or something.

Everything about this movie takes place in a parallel universe to the Alien franchise.  As I said before, it could be an interesting movie in its own right.  But there was no way to connect it to the Alien lifecycle (Queen -> Egg -> Face Hugger -> Bad Asses).  There was no way to connect it to gunner dude on LV-426 unless you believe that random ships are strewn about the galaxy with aliens as well as Engineers.

If anything, my take on this movie is that it shouldn't have had humans.  It should have been entirely based on the Gunner.  Screw the Engineer idea altogether.  And just find a cool story that involves humanoid aliens battling badass aliens.  I mentioned to someone when I walked out that I enjoyed AVP more than this movie for exactly that reason.  Aliens battling aliens, not lame-ass Christ-complex crap and a prequel that doesn't even connect together to the movies we've loved for 25+ (Aliens) and 30+ (Alien) years.  AVP, for all of its crappiness, at least existed in the same universe in theory.

And this is why the movie doesn't need expensive visual effects at all.  Just like the original, there was no alien!  Nothing about this story required an alien, so it could have been done with the same level of effects as the original Alien.  There was no need for the snake monsters that killed the guys in the chamber.  No need for the elaborate holographic imagery and effects.  The dust storm, the deaths, everything could have been done with much less elaborate effects.  Compare the effects in this movie to, say, Transformers.  You can't do Transformers without the effects.  My AVP request above would have needed effects for the story.

Speaking of holographic imagery, one has to wonder exactly how desperate the filmmakers became to tie this flimsy story together when they introduced these holographic projections of the Engineers doing stuff.  Why would this exist?  Why would it play back the exact moment that they were running from ... whatever.. or when the Engineers were starting up the ship?  Why would the 'Droid know how to turn this stuff on?  It makes no sense, and is a really bizarre way to try to pull this thing together with VFX.  Yet another way I feel like this movie relied on VFX as a crutch, rather than something driving the story.

And are all Weyland-built 'droids inherently evil except for Bishop?

Final thought.  At least when they cast Stringer Bell in this movie, they knew he'd end up kicking some ass.