Moonrise Prometheus (Weekly Links)

Fassbender and His Friends: Prometheus

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald, and etc.

Prometheus. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Any new addition to the “Alien” universe is doomed to be combed over, scrutinized, and otherwise dissected for its perceived shortcomings and incongruities.

With something as ambitious as Ridley Scott’s eagerly-awaited “Prometheus,” the attention is even keener. Scott directed the first “Alien” picture in 1979, and this new one would do nothing less than provide a prequel (and perhaps an “explanation”) to the entire saga.

Or so it was rumored. Scott chose to be coy about whether “Prometheus” was really connected to the “Alien” storyline. (For the record: yes, it’s all connected.) If it has a few too many lapses in logic to hold together as a classic, “Prometheus” nevertheless exerts a firm hold on the back of the neck. I saw the film previewed in an IMAX 3-D presentation, which was quite a sensory extravaganza, but I suspect it will grip people in more traditional venues, too.

We begin with a space journey arriving at a distant planet in search of the key to a possible extraterrestrial origin for human life. The crew members are awakened from their space-slumber by a robot (Michael Fassbender, excellent), whereupon they land on the planet, explore the sinister ruins of a dead civilization, and unlock one of those Pandora’s Boxes that science fiction movies are fond of unwrapping. Stepping into the plucky-and-then-some heroine role is Noomi Rapace, the star of the Swedish film versions of the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” franchise. Also on board are her scientist beau (Logan Marshall-Green), a frosty corporate overseer (Charlize Theron), and a crusty captain (Idris Elba), along with various crew members meant for fodder.

The film’s sweeping visual design is easy to get caught up in, and Rapace is a fittingly gutsy protagonist. And when I say “gutsy,” I mean it. There’s one long sequence that may inspire a few fainting spells, but I’m not about to give it away here. The movie’s got so much technical dazzle, I could even go along with some of the inexplicable behavior of these supposedly professional people.

As for the movie’s metaphysical reach…well, let’s just say Ridley Scott has never been the profound thinker he sometimes thinks he is (and yes, that includes “Blade Runner”). Still, the script by John Spaihts and Damon Lindelhof offers up enough stabs at heaviosity to justify the movie’s giant-sized stretch.

Even before it opened, the film was getting flak from “Alien” devotees for its plot holes and weak spots. Maybe I’m more indulgent to its shortcomings because I was never in awe of the ’79 original, which was “Ten Little Indians” given a shrewd sci-fi coating.

“Prometheus” muddies the simplicity of that movie. And no, it doesn’t always make sense. But if a 2012 movie gets points for creating a world and then immersing you in it, hoo boy, does this movie get points.

Moonrise Kingdom. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Wes Anderson’s previous movie was “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” an adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children’s book. It makes sense that his new film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” feels like a children’s book, even if it is an original story.

The time is 1965, the setting a fictional New England island. 12-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman) has vanished from his Scout camp. He’s an orphan whose opportunities with foster families have reached their end. At the same moment, Suzy (Kara Hayward) has run away from home. It’s no coincidence; the adolescents will rendezvous in the forests of New Penzance, armed with food, camping gear, and some books to read. Also, Suzy brought her cat.

This charming (but not sugary) escapade will resonate with anybody who ever read “My Side of the Mountain” or other tales of kids escaping on their own. Anderson (who wrote the script with Roman Coppola) understands the kid mind, the importance of books and record albums, the need to give order to the limited world of childhood so that it makes some kind of sense. The approach is realistic enough that it briefly acknowledges adolescent sexual curiosity, too, which may be the most surprising thing about the movie. Sometimes Anderson’s movies (including the splendid “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”) take place in a sealed-off neverland, where earthier feelings are left off screen.

There are grown-up issues, too. In fact, the adults are illuminated by how they react to the disappearance. Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) are having troubles, and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) is a lonely bachelor with his own problems. Everybody’s hunting for the missing kids, including am earnest Scout master (Edward Norton) and his troop of khaki-clad charges. Jason Schwartzman pops up as a Scout functionary, and Tilda Swinton appears as a rather fearsome representative of social services. All of these actors are fun to watch, although they are strictly supporting the two young people.

The child actors here are uncanny, rather than technically seamless, and more memorable because of that. They simply look and sound like these kids should look and sound (the boy could be the 12-year-old version of Roger Ebert).

Anderson’s approach is as symmetrical and carefully designed as ever. We come to know this little island, thanks to helpful maps and the occasional onscreen narration by Bob Balaban—he reminds us that a hurricane is headed for New Penzance, which will give the story a fittingly stormy conclusion.

I felt a falling-off in the second half of the movie, as though Anderson and Coppola had a difficult time deciding where to take the wonderful set-up. But “Moonrise Kingdom” pulls it off, thanks to the abundance of feeling for childhood realities, and their importance in the moment.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. “Wonderfully goofy.”

The Day He Arrives. “Loose ends extend in brain-teasing directions.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about Prometheus and the idea of the prequel, plus some words of gratitude for Ray Bradbury, a bright guiding light of my childhood. The talk is archived here; the Horto-segment begins at the 20:30 mark.

At What a Feeling!, a Prometheus-inspired week of 1980s sci-fi reviews concludes with a piece on Stewart Raffill’s Ice Pirates.

This afternoon I’ll pop up briefly on KCPQ-13’s afternoon News at Four for some chatter about the weekend’s openings; probably closer to 5 p.m. than earlier in the hour.

Next Wednesday, June 13, I’ll deliver  “Alien Encounters: Sci-Fi Movies and the Cold War Culture of the 1950s,” a free talk in the Humanities Washington speakers series, at the Chehalis Library, in Chehalis, WA, at 6 p.m. Location details here.

And a week from today, June 15, join the founders of Framing Pictures for another in-depth conversation aimed at encouraging movie talk: at 5 p.m. at the Northwest Film Forum, film critics Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and I will discuss movies, including upcoming repertory events in Seattle. It’s free, and beer and wine is available for purchase.