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FILM:July 2012

To begin at the beginning…while PROMETHEUS (cert. 15 2hrs. 4mins.) is a prequel to Alien, it can be watched in its own right and it is not necessary to know - or even remember clearly, after all the original came out in 1979 - Ridley Scott's classic to enjoy Prometheus. And it is, indeed, a most watchable film and still showing for a summer visit.

Michael Fassbender in Prometheus

The aim seems to be to explain how the strange humanoid with a hole in his stomach that we meet in Alien has arrived there. The plot however does not progress smoothly enough to explain everything clearly and although we can gather the general path and results of the expedition, not quite all the strands meet together.

Dr Elizabeth Shaw (a suitably serious and intense Noomi Rapace) and her companion Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), two scientists, discover a series of ancient cave paintings showing people worshipping a star constellation in the Isle of Skye.

Going forward a few years to 2094, the couple lead an expedition aboard the spacecraft Prometheus (named after the wisest Titan who gave mankind a number of gifts including fire. He also tricked Zeus into allowing man to keep the best part of the animals sacrificed to the gods and to give the gods the worst parts. For this Zeus punished Prometheus by having him chained to a rock with an eagle tearing at his liver. He was to be left there for all eternity or until he agreed to disclose to Zeus which of Zeus' children would try to replace him. He was eventually rescued by Hercules without giving in to Zeus). Also on the spaceship is the efficient corporate commander, Meridith Vickers (Charlize Theron, looking every inch the ice-maiden); Janek, the captain of the Prometheus (British actor, Idris Elba); the android David (a Bowie-like Michael Fassbender), who is more than a mere robot and a hologram who turns into the deceased Peter Weyland (virtually unrecognisable Guy Pearce).

The group arrives at its destination to find evidence of a humanoid super-race that seems to hold the clues to the origins of man and makes Dr Shaw question her religious beliefs. We now see how the name of the spaceship is echoed in the crew's search for their "makers" - in effect they challenge the gods, which, as in the legend can result in horrible happenings! And here we have slippery, slimy, gigantic crawlies coming out of various orifices which include Dr Shaw's pregnant stomach.

Director Ridley Scott has produced a superbly crafted film. The sets and CGI effects give a real feeling of the vastness of space and the threat of unknown beings and weird objects. The Director's use of 3D shows just what can be achieved with this format. Not since James Cameron's Avatar have I felt as though I was actually a participant in the action: this is not a film for the very squeamish!

Alongside the stunning visual effects, and tremendous looking production design, the acting is of a uniformly good quality. Rising above even the talents of Rapace and Theron, though, is Fassbender, who once again shows that he is on the way to being one of the best film actors of his generation. He manages to combine the look of David Bowie and his high cheekbones with the cool, somewhat arrogant manner of Peter O'Toole's Lawrence. In a way he skewers the story-line as whenever he is on - or part of him as only his head remains in one sequence - we can't take our eyes off him with the effect that the other characters seem less important.

Although Prometheus is a thriller it has a lot of exciting set pieces. This is a big film: a major sci-fi for our age and it is well worth seeing it on the largest screen available and most certainly in its 3D version.

DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX (cert. PG 1 hr 26 mins.), is a great film to take the children to over the school holidays. It comes out at the end of July.

Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), an idealistic 12-year-old lives in the walled city of Thneed-Ville, where everything is artificial and even the air is controlled. He develops a crush on his dream girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift) and discovers that her one wish is to see a real tree as her town only has artificial foliage. She paints pictures of forest scenes.

Ted's granny Norma (Betty White) tells him he needs to visit the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who used to be a successful business man and now lives outside the town on wasteland.

The Once-ler tells Ted how he transformed the Truffula trees' tufted fluff into scarves called "Thneeds" that became a fad. With abandon, he chopped down all the trees to fashion his products, ignoring the appeals and warnings of the Lorax, an orange sprite (Danny De Vito), so that the land became a barren wasteland. Ted wants to restore the land but comes up against the greedy Mayor of Thneed-Ville, Aloysius O'Hare, who has made his fortune selling bottled fresh air to the people of Thneedville, with his factories further polluting the atmosphere in the process.

The picture is pretty to look at and makes good use of 3D, although it can be enjoyed in the ordinary 2D version. The film has caught the spirit of Dr Seuss' books if not the lyrical language he uses. This is a charming tale with a very obvious moral: telling children, and their parents, to look after the environment! The final rather ironic song, "Let it Grow" sums up the message well.

Director, Chris Renard, has chosen his cast well and all the voices fit their characters, although my grandson, Alfie, thought that Efron's voice was that of a 25 year-old rather than a boy aged 12! The film should appeal to all ages; certainly my two grandchildren aged 9 and 13 enjoyed it and so did I!

THINK LIKE A MAN (cert. 12A 2hrs. 1min.), is a romantic comedy is based on the 2009 best-selling book, full title: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man written by Steve Harvey, one of the latest American self-help gurus. He appears in the film quoting bits from his book and the whole film is a long-winded promotion for his book. As he is one of the film's producers, this is perhaps not so surprising. Harvey offers advice to women on how to see into the hearts of the men they want to "catch". But not just catch; also get them to commit to the relationship leaving behind such irrelevant nuisances as childhood hobbies, long-term friends and their mothers! The film draws together five main stories to illustrate the way in which the women apply Harvey's advice and how the whole set-up is nearly ruined when the men realise what the women are doing and get hold of copies of the book themselves.

A group of friends meet and play basketball together a few times a week at a local gym. They are various types, all black except Bennett (Gary Owen) who is happily married and white and just offers advice. Cedric (Kevin Hart), who provides the voice-over, is divorced and still arguing with his wife on the phone and grumbling about her to his friends.

Romany Malco, Gary Owen, Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara and Terrence Jenkins in Think Like a Man

He introduces us to Zeke (Romany Malco), the "player;" Michael (Terence J) a "mummy's boy;" Dominic (Michael Ealy), a "dreamer;" and Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) a "non-committer."

Successful businesswoman, Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) wants a man who is as powerful and wealthy, or more so, than she is. Instead she falls for poorly paid chef Dominic, who dreams of having his own restaurant, but does nothing about it. They suffer various tribulations as she leaves him to go with an ex who is now very successful. Will Lauren and Dominic get back together? What do you think? Do you care?

Kristen (Gabrielle Union) longs for Jeremy, her long-term boyfriend, to ask her to marry him. But he keeps his childhood action men and cherishes an old couch and does not wish to commit. In order to get her boyfriend to change his ways, Kristen religiously follows Harvey's advice to get Jeremy to become more mature in his attitude. What happens? Guess?

Jennifer Lewis is very good as Mummy to Mummy's boy, Michael. He visits her regularly and even stays over one night a week. Michael loves his single mother's cooking and welcomes her doing his laundry. When he meets the lovely Candace (Regina Hall) he falls for her and gets on really well with her small son, but carries on placing his mother first as he feels he owes her. Candace looks to Harvey to help her get her man. Will she? Well…

Perhaps the most interesting story is that of Zeke who always meets beds and leaves women, hardly remembering their names. That is until he meets Mya (Meagan Good). Unfortunately she has had enough of men who meet her, have sex and leave, barely remembering who she is, and she uses Harvey's 90 day rule with Zeke when they meet - go with a man for 90 days without sex before letting him do it all! Will they be able to last that long? Well, in this case, it is not as simple as Zeke gets hold of the book and turns events around a bit.

While the movie has many quirky moments, it remains too much of a plug for a self-help book. At times sub-titles would be helpful - especially when Kevin Hart's character gets over-emotional and speaks very quickly! The cast, though, work well together and the film will make audiences laugh and it gives some fun moments, provided by director Tim Story.

The title, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (cert. 15 1hr. 45 mins.), tells us what this gothic tale is all about. By day a President and at night…a vampire hunter! The film actually starts sometime before Abraham Lincoln becomes the 16th President of the United States, and covers 45 years - from 1820 to 1865 - of his life and moves around from Kentucky to Illinois and Louisiana before concluding in Washington.

Benjamin Walker and Anthony Mackie in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Young Abraham sees his mother die from a bite inflicted by a vampire (and also local businessman), Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Before she dies his mother gives Abraham the mantra which he would follow throughout his life, "Until everyone is free, we are all slaves." Young Lincoln swears revenge on the villain, but fails as an adult (Benjamin Walker) in his first attack. He is rescued by Henry (Dominic Cooper) who teaches him how to become a credible vampire hunter.

But there is something more than pure altruism in Henry, which we are to discover later. A true friend, however, is Will (Anthony Mackie) a free slave who becomes Abraham's bodyguard.

Although Henry warns Abraham against making close friends, Lincoln meets, falls in love and marries Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who proves a loyal wife even though her husband hides his dark side from her. Lincoln is unable to hide much from the chief of all vampires, Adam (Rufus Sewell), who wants to be the leader of a vampire nation. Lincoln himself takes on the battle to free slaves and live up to his mother's precept.

The script has been adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith from his own graphic novel and although the whole concept of the film is pure fantasy, the words are full of gravity and the film is fun to watch. Stage actor Walker has the main part and comes across as trustworthy and a man of Presidential quality which, in this case, includes working towards the good of all humanity. Sewell makes a good villain; he is bad without being over the top in his wickedness while Cooper blends the different aspects of his character well - with more than a little assistance from the make-up department.

Director Timur Bekmambetov with his producer, Tim Burton, brings imagination and flamboyance to this story and manages to mix huge set pieces awash with CGI alongside more tender scenes between Abraham, his wife and son.

Civil rights, vampires, a love story, the triumph (almost) of good over evil - what more can you demand of a film?

I also recommend two excellent documentaries: SING YOUR SONG (cert. 12A 1hr. 44mins), which shows Harry Belafonte's activist origins and his current work. Director Susanne Rostock manages to promote Belafonte's life and career without over-concentrating on his entertainment side. A still good-looking 85 year-old with his third wife, Belafonte narrates his own story with additions from his friends, family and colleagues.

After he won fame as a calypso singer - his most famous song was "Day-O," during which he became the first musician to sell a million albums - he became a movie star with his performance in Carmen Jones (1954). Belafonte's prominence in the '60s enabled him to become close to both President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and an important go-between during the civil rights movement.

Harry Belafonte in Sing Your Song

The later phase of his career saw him as a Unicef ambassador and an active spokesman and campaigner on civil rights, the anti-apartheid movement, various war issues and African aid. Although sympathetic to Belafonte, the film is worth seeing as it gives us an all-round view of the different aspects of a great black singer, actor and activist.

A very different kind of documentary, PLANET OF SNAIL (no cert. 1hr. 27mins.) shows South Korean deaf-blind Young-Chan and the love of his life, his "eyes and ears" and constant helper, Soon-Ho, his wife, who is very short in stature with a debilitating spinal problem. Young-Chan is the "snail" of the title as he has to move so slowly to identify objects around him, but together with his wife, manages life with humour and love.

Director Seung-Jun Yi details the minutiae of their daily life. Soon-Ho cooks meals for her husband, helps him to do his exercises by turning him around when he gets too near the wall and even accompanies him to his Hebrew classes and assists with the exam (we are never told just why Young-Chan is learning Heberew!). There is a lovely scene where we see Soon-Ho standing on a stool doing the washing-up with her husband next to her.

They share this task as they share everything else. Another noticeable scene is where the couple put up a new light bulb. It takes great effort for both of them as she has to try to show him where the light is and how to fix it but he has to climb up as she is too short. When the light works there is immense joy in a seemingly simple task successfully achieved.

Soon-Ho manages to converse with her husband by tapping out words on his fingers and he replies with his voice. He is able to speak as he was not born deaf and blind but became so following a childhood illness so he learnt to speak and also remembers what he saw before he lost all vision and hearing.

The film is sensitively made but the end part is not as interesting as the rest which deals with the life of the couple. The final part shows Young-Chan rehearsing and performing a play, that he has written, before an audience.

The couple realise that at some point Young-Chan must learn to be independent and we see how hard Soon-Ho finds it to put him on the bus as he leaves her to spend the day undergoing exercises in independent living. They are so pleased to be together again when he returns that the scene where they walk away from the bus communicating their sorrow at being parted and contentment at being back together is truly moving. This charming documentary is a beautifully made film showing humanity at its finest.





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Carlie Newman

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