Thirty years since the release of Blade Runner, and after over a decade of poor-performing films such as Kingdom of Heaven and A Good Year, it’s a pleasure to see director Ridley Scott back doing what he does best. So without a doubt, the highlight of this week’s cinema releases is Scott’s film Prometheus, which recovers the grandeur and mystery that the science fiction genre seemed to have lost some time ago.
If intergalactic travel isn't your cup of tea, why not stay here on Earth for Last Night, starring Keira Knightley and Eva Mendes? It's a slow-burning, subtle affair, but after seeing what the crew of Prometheus find out there in outer space, that's perhaps not such a bad thing.
In case you've been living in a cave for the past year,Prometheus is a somewhat distantly related prequel to Scott's 1979 sci-fi masterpiece, Alien. Often referenced as the go-to manual on how to write a minimal yet eloquent script, Alien is undoubtedly one of Ridley Scott's best films. Happily, Prometheus is cut from very similar, if not identical, cloth.
At the end of the 21st century, after two scientists discover star maps which might reveal the origins of humanity, an expedition is launched to explore a distant planet. But, just as the scientists' questions look to be answered, they encounter a species of familiar and deeply unfriendly extra-terrestrial.
Optimism gives way to horror as successive members of the crew are contaminated by the alien lifeform and it becomes clear that looking for mankind's origin might actually lead to his destruction. And yet, despite these metaphysical concerns, the film never loses sight of its status as an action movie, mostly because the characters don't have much time for philosophising what with all the aliens and the screaming.
Scott wisely closes the film on a note of incompletion. He knows more than most how cruicial it is, especially in a film of this nature, to retain a sense of mystery in order to maximise the desired effect. So, while numerous questions in the film are resolved, it is this unsettling sensation of knowing that so much has been left undone which makes Scott’s return to sci-fi so chilling.
Dir. Ridley Scott, USA, 2012. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris. 124 min.
The young director Massy Tadjedin was born in Iran and raised in Orange County, California. With a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Harvard, her first feature film is, fittingly, a subtle examination of temptation and loyalty among intelligent, privileged professionals. In this case, our focus is upon the young couple played by Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington. Separated for one night by Worthington's Michael leaving town on a business trip, both he and Keira Knightley's Joanna end up having their loyalty tested.
For Michael, it's his sultry colleague Laura (Eva Mendes) who catches his eye, while for Joanna it is the reappearance of old flame Alex (Guillaume Canet). Drinks are had, flirtations and reminiscences are embarked upon, and by the next morning everyone has something either to regret or to hide. As the couple are reunited, in the suspended instant before they confess or deny all, the film cuts to black. It is a suitably enigmatic ending to a film which renounces easy answers yet is ultimately too slight for real drama.
Dir. Massy Tadjedin, USA, France, 2010. Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, Gillaume Canet, Griffin Dunne. 93 min.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Amor Impossível)
This new film is a perfect storm of whimsy. Directed by the Swede Lasse Hallström, who is responsible for bittersweet dramas like My Life as a Dog, Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, it was adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty) from Paul Torday's sweetly fanciful bestseller of the same name.
In the film, Ewan McGregor's unworldly, autistic salmon specialist is persuaded by Emily Blunt's beautiful functionary to an Arab sheikh into fulfilling the sheikh's dream of introducing salmon fishing to the desert country of Yemen. Romance ensues, as do numerous picturesque events, some featuring salmon, and all ends reasonably happily. However, the piece lacks sufficient dramatic contrast, and the palate is overwhelmed by so much sweetness.
Dir. Lasse Hallström, UK, 2011. Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman. 107 min.
This Italian film cuts between the 1970s and present day to tell the story of Bruno, a young boy inspired to escape his family and quiet seaside home by the escapades of his troubled, beautiful mother, Anna. Now a professor living in Milan, Bruno is unable to forget his past, and his past, it seems, is unable to forget him: his sister arrives and persuades him to return home to be with the now dying Anna.
Showered with awards in its native Italy, this film is infused with the same tragicomic melancholy as Nanni Moretti's work. It's also worth watching for the stand-out performance given by veteran Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli, who starred in classic movies such as Divorce Italian Style and 1900. Note: this is screened in the original Italian with Brazilian subtitles.
Dir. Paolo Virzì, Italy, 2010. Valerio Mastandrea, Micaela Ramazzotti, Stefania Sandrelli, Claudia Pandolfi, Sergio Albelli. 122 min.
A Voz Adormecida (La Voz Dormida)
It is the early 1940s and a girl from the countryside goes to Madrid to be with her sister who, though pregnant, has been imprisoned by the Franco dictatorship. She meets a guerrilla fighter, a lad originally from a wealthy family, and falls in love with him. The film, with grandiloquent tendencies and upheld by a good cast, takes an academic approach to a delicate moment in Spanish history. Note: this is screened in the original Spanish with Brazilian subtitles.
Dir. Benito Zambrano, Spain, 2011. María León, Inma Cuesta, Marc Clotet, Daniel Holguín, Ana Wagener. 128 min.