Category Archives: Film

Whiplash Review

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Drummers are used to being underappreciated by both their peers and by a larger audience. In fact, most drummers see very little return, financial or otherwise, for their lifetime of intense work and dedication. Whiplash, the second feature from writer-director Damien Chazelle, hopes to change this, pushing the drum kit and the drummer to the fore of the story.

On film, drummers have always been underrepresented in comparison to other musicians, featuring primarily as supporting characters, as in This is Spinal Tap and Wayne’s World. For an accurate portrayal, fans of the instrument have instead had to rely on documentaries to fill the void left by the long lasting reluctance by studios to shine a spotlight on the drummer. This is what makes Whiplash such a rare and enjoyable treat.

The film focuses on a young Jazz musician named Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent), who is studying at the prestigious “Shaffer Conservatory” in New York so as to achieve his ambition of becoming “one of the greats”. Under the tutelage of the unshakeable Terrence Fletcher, portrayed brilliantly by J.K Simmons (Spiderman, Juno), he is forced to push himself to extreme lengths in order to progress in his chosen career, acting often in ways detrimental to his own health and wellbeing.

The main advantages of the film are its lead performances. Simmons and Teller have brilliant on screen chemistry together. Both clearly have a passion for the material and possess the appropriate depth to deal with its difficult themes and subject matter.

Whiplash is an at times overwhelming experience for the viewer. There is a heavy emphasis on blood, sweat and tears throughout the duration of the film, which only serves to heighten the drama and to further embellish the protagonist’s dedication to his selected profession.

In addition, the film’s editing also contributes immensely to its success, complimenting the narrative with its rhythm and timing. Great lengths have been taken to ensure the film’s form is an extension of its subject matter. This attention to detail is admirable, and guaranteed to be enjoyed by those who are willing to take heed of it.

Whiplash is a film that has been long awaited by cinemagoers. Hopefully, it will serve as inspiration to future filmmakers to pay respect to the drummer, and ensure they are given the credit that they so rightfully deserve.

5/5

Written By: Jack Yarwood

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Fish Tank Review

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Fish Tank is the second full-length feature film by director Andrea Arnold, after 2006’s Red Road. It follows the story of Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis), an antisocial teenager living on an East London housing estate.

Throughout the film’s duration, Mia, the central protagonist is subject to the harsh conditions of the estate where she lives. She communicates to her mother (Kierston Wareing) and sister (Rebecca Griffiths) in a series of piercing screams, and often finds she has to defend herself against her environment with the use of force.

It is only when Mia is truly alone that she is capable of becoming empathetic. Guzzling down alcohol in her spare time to deal with her everyday life, she seeks escape wherever she can find it. This leads her to the glamorous world of Rn’B and Rap, where she discovers an interest in urban dancing. Practicing alone in an abandoned room on the estate, she attempts to perfect her technique in order to escape her conditions and find something worth holding on to.

The film is as much a personal story as it is a social commentary. The character of Mia, though subject to conditions created by a particular political and sociological climate, is not merely a stereotypical working class figure, but a fully realised individual; like any real human being, she has individual dreams, aspirations, fears, and regrets. This is displayed perfectly within the film, owing to the director’s astute ability to create unique and interesting characters, as seen previously in Red Road.

Other characters that feature predominantly in Mia’s story are her mother, Joanne; her mother’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender); her younger sister, Tyler; and a local boy, Billy, played by Harry Treadaway. All of these characters witness the many sides of the girl, being exposed at different points in the narrative to both her anger and affection. They are also perfectly cast. Much of the film depends on the interactions between Connor and Mia, and Fassbender and Jarvis handle this confidently.

The film is an awe-inspiring piece of British cinema, carrying with it a strong sense of realism. It is beautifully shot and presented, and manages to retain an interest throughout its run.

If you are a fan of Andrea Arnold’s previous work, or a supporter of British Cinema in general, Fish Tank is a must-watch. It handles its subject excellently, treating it with the necessary depth and sensitivity.

5/5

Written by Jack Yarwood

Thor: The Dark World Review

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Continuing where last year’s multi-million-pound blockbuster Marvel’s Avengers Assemble left off, Thor: The Dark World is a rollicking superhero adventure packed with special effects and heaps of action. Much like its predecessor, 2011’s Thor, it borrows heavily from Marvel’s expansive source material to tell a story that is accessible not only to fans of the genre but to casual filmgoers as well.

But whilst it is impressive in many aspects of its creation, in others it is certainly lacking. Helmed by Alan Taylor, director on several episodes of the popular TV show Game of Thrones, the film struggles in many of the same areas that the previous did.

One of the key problems is that they have not yet managed to perfect the shifts in tone needed between the two worlds; this was also problematic within the first film. At times Thor: The Dark World feels almost sitcom-esque in its presentation before changing swiftly to a more grandiose style, for the scenes set within Asgard. This shift in tone is incredibly noticeable throughout, and also very distracting.

Another flaw with the film is that several members of the characters are criminally underused. These include Idris Elba’s Heimdell and Anthony Hopkins’ Odin. Both take a back seat for the majority of the film, sacrificing their onscreen time to the far inferior character of Darcy (Kat Dennings). She serves as comic relief throughout the film, though she often strays into the annoying sidekick category.

The villain Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston, is also underdeveloped within the film. He lacks the characterization of other Marvel villains, appearing generic in comparison to the likes of the Mandarin and Obadiah Stane.

The film does have some features to celebrate. One of these is the magnificent onscreen chemistry between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). This helps the film to remain interesting for the viewer, as both actors appear unbelievably comfortable in their roles. Hiddleston, in particular, is spectacular this time around; Loki continues to be one of the most fascinating characters the Marvel film universe has to offer.

The film excels in other areas as well, most notably its fight scenes. The final fight is a magnificent affair, which is unusually inventive considering the often-formulaic nature of superhero third acts.

Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable superhero romp from Marvel and Disney, but suffers under scrutiny. If you can get past the film’s many flaws, it is a great piece of popcorn cinema, accessible for families and fans alike.

3/5

Written by: Jack Yarwood

The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) Review

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“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber” – Casares

Set during the final years of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) is the third feature film from Guillermo del Toro, following both his debut feature Cronos and his nineties horror picture Mimic. The narrative of the film focuses upon an orphanage in rural Spain and its latest arrival, Carlos (Fernando Tielve). Through his actions we experience the story, learning gradually the significance of characters, as well as the troubled history of the orphanage itself.

The boy’s initial impressions of the orphanage are grim. In the centre of the courtyard there lies an unexploded bomb nose down in the dust. Amongst the children there is talk that a child is missing. Others say that he now haunts the orphanage. Carlos begins to hear and see things.

Throughout the course of the movie del Toro exhibits a spectacular ability in crafting a story that is both unsettling and sympathetic. By presenting a fiction based upon a small child, especially one without a parental figure to protect him, he plunges the audience into a world that is both uncertain and unsafe. Early on, in fact, we come to realize that it is not only the supernatural that is a threat to the boy, but also the older inhabitants of the orphanage, who display a bullying attitude towards the younger children.

In terms of the performances the film again excels. The presence of the much older characters, such as Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), Carmen (Marisa Paredes), and Dr Casares (Federico Luppi) is measured perfectly and each character is given distinctive attributes to set them apart; Jacinto is boisterous and a bully, Carmen is curt yet caring, and Casares is kind and respectable. The children within the film, many of them first time actors, also impress when onscreen; they help throughout to reinforce the sense of dread and despondency that has inhabited the orphanage, to their credit.

Another point of interest is del Toro’s use of symbolism within the film, which is impeccable for the duration of the film. Within The Devil’s Backbone objects and situations, such as The Spanish Civil War, may seem to be merely embellishment to the story, yet they draw interesting parallels within the plot. An example of this is displayed within the characterisation of Jacinto, who bullies the children in a manner similar to how the socialists had come to be oppressed by Franco’s forces during the conflict. In fact, the film has been construed by many as an allegory for the strife of the Spanish people in general during this tumultuous period, the ghosts and monsters being representations, as is also suggested by Casares, for “an instant of pain…[or]…an emotion suspended in time.”

However you may choose to view the film, it is an interesting and enjoyable piece of European cinema. Not only does it manage to provide the usual scares expected of the horror genre, it also engages with the audience on a deeper level, offering a poignant tale of resistance and empowerment. Although, it may in many ways be overlooked in favour of its more successful sister film, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone is well worth a look.

4/5

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Django Unchained Review

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Due to a wave of publicity & controversy, courted by director Quentin Tarantino’s tackling of an oft-avoided topic, slavery in the 19th century, Django Unchained is perhaps Tarantino’s most important feature yet. But it is also arguably the film in which he has had the most to lose. When the media caught wind of Tarantino’s involvement in a film set against the backdrop of the Deep South, in the time of slavery, many could not help but wince. Would he do the atrocities justice, or would his portrayal be insensitive to the memory of those who had lived in the dark days of slavery? Many critics anticipated the latter; yet they were wrong.

This is because even though the film in many ways does not show enough to truly express the horror that faced African-American slaves, it does not need to.  This is since the film is essentially not about slavery; much in the sense Inglourious Basterds was not about the horrors of the death camps. Instead, the two films referenced above focus more predominately on revenge as the key motivator, the backdrop in both cases being only a tool by which the narrative conveys its mediations on this theme.

In an intimate scene at the heart of the film between Christoph Waltz’s character, Dr. King Schultz, and Django, played by the wonderful Jamie Foxx, they discuss the German fairy tale of Brynhildr, the woman in the castle. This allegory, which is drawn throughout, best highlights the real nature of the film, as a fantasy, a fiction to which any real debate on the topic of slavery is purely incidental to the plot. Whilst many would argue that this is a bad thing, and that it is perhaps insensitive or callous of Tarantino to invoke real historical tragedies such as this, in an altered reality, they would be wrong. This is because what Tarantino has presented here is a wish fulfilment, a revenge epic; it is history rewritten by a generation that have surpassed their predecessors in morality and good nature; thereby showing how far we have come in many respects from the darkest days of slavery in the 19th century. This is perhaps best shown by our mouthpiece and the character to which we best relate throughout, Django, the freed slave and revelatory force, a character who eradicates all signs of the out-dated, grotesque attitudes towards race, as the film progresses.

Considering the performances in isolation, the film has been a major success in gathering all the right players. The central cast, for the most part, treads the line perfectly throughout the film, giving incredible performances that combine just the right amount of intensity and humour. The best performances in the film are arguably that of Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, as Calvin Candie, the slave owner who runs Candieland, a large plantation, which takes the form for the majority of the film as its main location. On first hearing DiCaprio was cast as the abhorrent slave owner, it was hard to imagine him quite being suitable for the villainous role, though after only two minutes onscreen, he has our attention, our curiosity, and our disgust. In contrast to this, Jamie Foxx displays in his performance the ability to be sympathetic, as well as incredibly entertaining onscreen, charming, and resourceful in spite of his cruel surroundings. Yet this is not to say that the performances given by Waltz and Kerry Washington aren’t also memorable; in fact, they are both incredibly distinct. Though in comparison with the performances of both Foxx & DiCaprio, they are arguably overshadowed.

Another star within the film that cannot go without being mentioned, however, is the violence, an expected feature of any Tarantino picture, ever since his debut with Reservoir Dogs in 1992. In Django Unchained this feature is on display in all its graphic glory, the film’s finale being a bloodbath unsuitable for those easily offended. This violence nevertheless is justified, as it only seeks to reinforce that what you are watching is a fantasy, a spectacle and not designed to accurately portray the events that surrounded the practicing, as well as the abolishment, of the slave trade, in the 19th Century. Some may be repulsed by this, but others however, fans of Tarantino, will be amazed at what lengths he goes to within the film, the movie citing some of his most twisted moments yet on screen.

In spite of this, the movie, for all its intensity and gore, is on the other hand also incredibly funny, the comic turns of Jonah Hill & the rest of the “Regulators”, a precursor to the KKK, being one of the many highlights, as the portrayals make a mockery of these individuals, and their bigoted attitudes. Tarantino clearly knows how to make an audience laugh, and in this case puts it to use in order to expose the preposterous nature of these self-appointed men of importance.

However, for all the film does get right, including, for example, the performances, the dialogue, and the wit, the movie fails in one major aspect, its length, with the feature totalling three hours overall. This is one of its weaknesses, as in between the brilliant comedic set pieces, and splashes of gore, we are greeted with excess material, which although entertaining, perhaps should have been cut to stop the film meandering. This additional material arguably makes the film feel more like a series of set pieces, rather than a full-fledged, fluent motion picture. Yet even though, as argued above, the film is indulgent, depending on how much you appreciate Tarantino’s previous work, such as ‘Basterds, Pulp Fiction & Kill Bill, to name a few, you might perhaps be able to turn a blind eye.

Django Unchained is definitely a film for audiences who can take their gore, offering an eventful, epic tale of revenge and love. Although the film is for the most part enjoyable, and suitably intense, it also revels in blood however, something that may deter spectators from seeking out said film, for something lighter instead.

4/5

Love Actually Review

From the sickly sweet opening narration to the grossly sentimental ending, Love Actually is a film that does its utmost to manipulate its audience. Boasting a large roster of British talent, including, amongst others, Andrew Lincoln, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, and Alan Rickman, the film has the potential to be great. That is, if not for the overbearing sentimentality and forced nature of some of the film’s many character arcs.

Although the film, in many respects, is impossibly charming, as displayed by the likeability of some of the film’s cast, several other areas of the film are incredibly off putting. This is mostly due to the appearance of some aspects, such as the relationship between characters, which, if noticed, appear contrived, as well as grossly sentimentalized. These areas, of which I have noted above, may anger some audiences, who feel belittled by the film’s attempts to manipulate their emotional response. This belittlement disengages the audience from many of the story arcs, and also from the respective scenes that work so well. An example of this being the love affair between Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister and the tea lady, Natalie, played by Martine McCutcheon. This arc is perhaps given the most screen time of all, though arguably feels the most redundant of the lot. The composition of said story is meant to inspire endearment towards the bumbling Prime Minister, though it is significant in detaching the viewer from the more realistic aspects of the film, mainly Laura Linney’s arc of the office worker caring for her mentally ill brother, and Emma Thompson’s portrayal of a wife to an adulterous husband (Alan Rickman). Although we are, quite shamelessly, pleaded with to like Grant’s Prime Minister, the detachment from real life is almost too significant to find his portrayal authentic. Also, any subsequent attempts, taken thereon by the film to make itself more realistic, are handled in a rather juvenile manner, which can be seen as undermining the film’s aims by oversimplification; i.e. when the president comes to visit, and the film explores the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States of America.

As touched upon briefly before, the more grounded stories are often the most rewarding throughout the film, with Thompson’s part shining as one of the many highlights, from the ensemble cast. Other characters, also to leave their mark, throughout the film’s two-hour run, include the lovesick Mark (Andrew Lincoln), whose arc leads to one of the more memorable moments of the film. This being an inventive ploy to tell the woman he loves that he is indeed infatuated with her, illustrated by the use of cue cards and a portable cd player. These two characters, with the addition of Sarah (Laura Linney) and Jamie (Colin Firth) offer the more enjoyable moments of the film, with the characters appearing the most flawed, and least nauseatingly sweet of the bunch.

In terms of its comedy the film is, for the most part, a hit, with some matures laughs for adults, whilst children will no doubt find the goofier slapstick moments worth their time. The demographic for the film is therefore far reaching, offering an enjoyable, though fairly inconsistent, distraction during the festive season, and beyond. ‘Love Actually’ is a film that will leave many incensed, though many more amused, or entertained.

3/5

ParaNorman Review

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‘ParaNorman’ the latest animation by Laika Inc., the studio behind 2009’s ‘Coraline’, is a magnificent blend of beautiful animation, intelligently scripted dialogue, and carries just enough sophistication to keep it fresh for an adult audience. Co-directed by Sam Fell, whose previous projects include Aardman and DreamWorks’s ‘Flushed Away’, and first time director Chris Butler, the film is an enjoyable homage to the horror genre that manages to transcend its target audience in favour of a broader appeal.

One of the many things that the film has in its favour is its maturity, in part due to the intelligence of the writing. An example of this within the film is in the way Norman’s adolescent isolation is portrayed. This portrayal creates moments of genuine pathos that resonates with the audience, without feeling too clichéd or at all arbitrary to the plot, and is complimented perfectly throughout by the performances of the stellar voice cast. In fact, although the reasons behind Norman’s isolation may in fact be ludicrous or fantastical i.e.: his ability to talk to the dead, the film is triumphant in crafting an incredibly accurate representation of the often awkward, sometimes painful experience of high school for some students growing up. As well as this the film also explores, rather successively, the often-frayed relations between fathers and sons, represented here by the interactions between Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his disapproving father (Jeff Garlin), who often fails to understand his son and his evident preoccupation with the deceased.

However, alongside the mature themes of adolescent isolation and family relationships the film does also accomplish some moments of mild horror, as expected of a film so indebted to the zombie and horror films of the 1970’s. Such moments include, for example, the arrival of the witch’s curse, which, though not exactly terrifying, fills the audience with a sense of peril way beyond that of many other contemporary children’s films.

Another highlight of the film is the score by Jon Brion (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that helps set the tone perfectly throughout, with a mixture of autumnal tracks and delightful throwbacks to the zombie films of decades past. As well as this the performances of the ensemble cast, including John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck, to name a few, are also worth noting, with each character being distinctive and injected with an abundance of personality.

Though it may be argued that ‘ParaNorman’ has perhaps gone unnoticed, partly as a result of being released alongside Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion feature ‘Frankenweenie’, the film is definitely worth a look. ‘ParaNorman’ for a child audience is perfect, never belittling and often intelligent, and for the adult audience, and those that will inevitably watch the film alongside their children, there is enough to like and maintain an interest throughout its 92-minute running time.

4/5

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Skyfall Review

If the release of 2008’s Quantum of Solace left you a little wearied by Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond, the arrival of director Sam Mendes’s take on the MI6 operative is sure to change your mind. ‘Skyfall’ manages to encompass all of the classic Bond tropes; from the fast paced action of the previous two films, again starring Craig, to the gadgetry and globe trotting of the earlier Bond films, it’s all here. Yet the film also succeeds where many others have failed before it, by offering a human face to Bond. ‘Skyfall’ is not simply just the rehash of old ideas that it perhaps might have been – given that the theatrical release date coincides with the 50th anniversary of Bond on film – instead it delves deeper than many Bond films have dared to before, offering a study into the characters of Bond as well as others that surround him.

In fact, the plot, you may argue, is one of the most personal yet, dealing with a decrepit Bond, played excellently by Daniel Craig, and his loyalty to M (Dame Judi Dench), which comes under considerable strain following a chaotic series of events. It is this relationship between Bond and M that essentially maintains the viewer’s interests throughout the film, with both actors revealing hidden depths to their characters that have rarely been explored before in previous entries into the series. These include, amongst other things, an exploration into M’s past, and how her decisions have inevitably affected Bond throughout his years of service, jeopardizing his safety.

Another key performance that is worth mentioning is that of Javier Bardem as villain Raoul Silva. And from his introductory scene to the final showdown Bardem manages to tread the line perfectly between menacing and humorously eccentric; in the process evoking the best Bond Villains of past, though suitably updated for the modern age. Rarely has there been a villain that has felt as disturbed as his, the blonde wig acting as an extension of the character rather than a wholly aesthetic decision in wardrobe. The supporting cast is equally as promising with Ralph Fiennes delivering an almost effortless performance as Mallory, whilst Ben Whishaw as Q and Albert Finney as Kincade inject some humor into the inevitably darker narrative.

A selection of other highlights come in the form of Adele’s theme, a return to the simplistic approach of Bond themes of old; as well as in the choreography of some of the major action set pieces, such as the chase through Istanbul at the beginning of the film that rivals even Casino Royale’s ambitious opening; and the non-traditional showdown between villain and 007 that is one of the finest moments of any modern Bond.

The film, however, does have some minor issues, including, for example, the appearance of some faulty CGI partway through the film; and some fantastically unrealistic feats from Craig’s Bond that almost derail the plot from its fairly authentic approach. However these do not come often enough to completely spoil the film’s aesthetic; and perhaps to lose such moments would be to do away with the fun of earlier entries into the series.

In closing the film is a return to form, and the stamp of Sam Mendes is most definitely felt on this entry into the franchise, whilst also maintaining all the trademark features and the style of previous entries. The film is a must see for any Bond fanatic, while newcomers to the series will also be able to sit back and enjoy Sam Mendes’s take on the Bond franchise.

4/5

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Prometheus Review

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Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’, alongside the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ and a plethora of other big budget blockbusters released last summer, was one of 2012’s most anticipated releases. However, it can be argued that, although the film has its share of truly spectacular moments, the film ultimately collapses under the weight of expectation set for this prequel to Scott’s 1979 sci-fi masterpiece, ‘Alien’.

Among the many positives within the film are the two key central performances of actor Michael Fassbender (Shame, X-Men First Class, Hunger), as the morally ambiguous android ‘David’; and Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (Millennium Series) as the Archaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, whose discovery of a star map at the start of the film sets the plot in motion. Both are fantastic in their roles, with Fassbender’s performance shining brightest in the middle of a large ensemble cast.

One of the more unlikely stars of the film is the locations and scenery, such as the magnificent sets within the alien pyramid, designed by Arthur Max. Although, it can be argued that, due to the sheer number of sets, certain sets suffer from being underused such as, for example, the alien pyramid, which could have served as the setting for the majority of the film.

The film is therefore not without its flaws, as, in addition to the misuse of sets, plot holes succeed in disengaging the viewer from the film itself, as character’s motivations are left obscure, appearing atypical in certain incredible circumstances. It is this failure in fleshing out many of the supporting cast that becomes the film’s undoing in some respects, as not only is it hard to care about many of the characters when they begin to find themselves in peril, it is also confusing to understand why certain characters behave how they do in such situations.

Another major flaw is that the film’s dialogue never achieves the grandiose level of debate you would perhaps think of a feature that presents a group of highly intelligent humans in search of their creator. An example of this is when Rafe Spall’s character Millburn makes a reference to Shaw’s rejection of Darwinism. Shaw’s response at said issue is little more than to shoo away the question with a reference to her belief in her work. The film more or less follows on in a similar manner, never really daring to delve into the true implications of the crew’s discoveries, and therefore suffers as a result.

The film is incredibly enjoyable taken as a less elaborate feature than perhaps the filmmaker intended, and viewed rather as a movie in line with other less ambitious summer blockbusters. The film in no way reaches the dizzying heights of Scott’s other two sci-fi features, Blade Runner and Alien, and instead works best viewed as an entertaining sci-fi adventure picture. It can be actually argued that taken as a prequel ‘Prometheus’ can be seen as a jarring transition into the Alien Universe, even in the lines of a spiritual predecessor to the first feature, as the universe detailed in that movie appears altogether much grungier and even more realistic than that which is portrayed here.

‘Prometheus’ may have found itself at the center of much criticism following its release in theaters, though rather unfairly. This is because, although the film does not quite reach the high standard of previous efforts from Director, Ridley Scott, the film remains incredibly entertaining, making ‘Prometheus’ one for sci-fi fans and general film enthusiasts alike to check out.

3/5

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