Friday, June 22, 2012

Ain't nothin' but nonsense: 'Rock of Ages' review

"Rock is dead." So says Paul Giamatti's oily, manipulative manager near the end of Adam Shankman's (Hairspray) adaptation of Rock of Ages, the Broadway musical about late-80s rock decadence. Like almost everything else in the film, it's hard to know how to take the line: are we supposed to realize he's right, that rock has drowned in its own excess and stumbled into the 90s as repackaged bubblegum pop? Are we supposed to deny him and take the stage anyway, embracing rock as something that lives on and on and on?

Then, is Rock of Ages a eulogy, a celebration, an insistence on rock's glory or a mockery of its empty decadence?

Monday, June 11, 2012

"We were so wrong..." - 'Prometheus' review

The very first shot of Prometheus, Ridley Scott's much-hyped, already much-discussed return to science fiction (not to mention the Alien franchise, sort of), is of the Earth backlit by the sun, the camera gently moving up to catch a glare of light. It's the first in a long string of references to Stanley Kubrick's seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the whole structure of the first act -- a pre-history event, iconography that beckons a journey to the limits of space, an explicit pursuit for the origins of humanity -- to neat little dialogue inversions like "Open the back door now!" as opposed to "Open the pod bay doors, Hal" or, my own favorite, a robotic "Good morning, David" early in the film that almost echoes HAL 9000 in cadence. It's even got some nice little visual nods, like an old-age Guy Pearce who looks remarkably similar to the old-age Dave Bowman at the end of 2001.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Prometheus is not a remarkably original film. Nor does it claim to be. Its structure, dialogue, and visuals quote quite freely from other Alien movies, from 2001, and from other cosmically-inclined sci-fi. Its search for the origins of life is, as many detractors have already pointed out, nothing special. In fact, Prometheus is a deeply flawed film. It doesn't quite know what it wants to do with its pursuit-of-God storyline, and that's actually because -- wait for it -- the whole thing is a damn MacGuffin. It's a set up, a cruel joke the film plays. The search for God (or, the alien beings who created us), as it were, actually turns up pure Evil (or, the aliens that will try to destroy us). Many of its ideas feel half-baked, its dialogue is pretty poor, and the most captivating character is the robot. But still, it's hard not to marvel at the thing, a behemoth of a visual accomplishment that feels like a "flash sideways" (for Lost fans) into the Alien universe.