Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

June 26, 2012

Review: Prometheus

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:10 am

Note: This is my weekly review from the print-only TV guide of The Marshall Independent.

Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” is a prequel to the “Alien” series of sci-fi horror films, but stands alone so those who’ve spent the years since 1979 in cryonic sleep can enjoy it too.

For those already familiar with the Aliens, “Prometheus” reveals the origins of that nasty species with the breeding cycle of the ichneumon wasp, and our own as well.

The basic plot has an acknowledged debt to Erich von Däniken’s theory of ancient astronauts bringing civilization to humankind.

I personally and professionally (if you concede that I’m an anthropologist) find Von Daniken and his ilk intensely irritating. The stated rational is that “primitive” humans couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids and other megalithic architecture, so aliens must have shown them how to do it.

Nonsense on stilts. Of course they could have, and any number of historians and engineers have shown exactly how they could have.

It does admittedly make for a pretty good plot device though, most notably used in “Battlestar Galactica” of fond memory.

“Prometheus” also has an unacknowledged debt, or perhaps just coincidental inspiration, to a 1941 short story by by Alfred Bester “Adam and No Eve,” where the last survivor on a devastated Earth realizes his rotting corpse will reseed the Earth with life.

The film starts with a giant human-like character standing by a waterfall in a desolate landscape (filmed in Iceland) with a flying saucer hovering overhead.
The humanoid drinks a potion, and dissolves, seeding the earth with his DNA.

Cut to 2089 when archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover one of a series of cave paintings/carvings on the Isle of Skye showing a giant humaoid creature pointing at a star cluster.

They surmise the design found in many places around the world, is both a map and an invitation from “the Engineers” to join them. An expedition is funded by The Weyland Corporation, one of the common threads running through both the “Alien” and “Alien vrs. Predator” franchises. The movie is about what the expedition finds.

Like the rest of the “Alien” films, it’s a horror story that goes for the gross-out. Subtle it’s not. It’s all here, with some redesign. Horrible creatures stuffing ovipositors into people to lay eggs which hatch into chest-bursters, plus new wrinkles like space-zombies reminiscent of the 1965 Italian sci-fi/horror “Planet of the Vampires” (“Terrore nello spazio.”)

There’s also some thoughtful stuff about God, the Universe, and Everything for those who like their entertainment heavy.

If the Engineers, not God, made mankind, then who made The Engineers?

And why are they disappointed with the result? Shades of Genesis 6:6, “and he repented that he had made man on the earth.”

There’s a rather engaging android David (Michael Fassbender) who makes you wonder whether he wants to be human, or despises us.

There’s a band of heroes leading an inspiring doomed charge to save us all with with a quip on their lips.

There’s the standard head-of-the-giant corporation villains Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and cold corporate suit Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) so beloved of Hollywood where they toil in humble cottage industries.

There’s plenty of standard horror movie chills that make you want to shout, “Don’t go there!” “Don’t touch that stuff!”

And there’s an ending that very satisfactorily doesn’t wrap everything up, and leaves you with a sense of mystery, wonder, and hopes for a sequel.

And yet…

“Prometheus” is getting generally favorable reviews, it seems Ridley Scott can’t make a really bad movie, but there are some aspects to this that are frankly overrated.

They “reimaginged” the aliens. Big deal, they’re still just gross-out acid-for-blood critters who reproduce by laying eggs in their prey. They’ve got another way of infecting people, which is a straightforward steal of “the black oil” from The X-Files.

Yes it brings up some heavy conversation starters – but doesn’t have the conversation because it’s too busy being a horror flick.

Shaw has issues with the idea of creation because she’s evidently barren. Except once mentioned, nothing is done with the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy it. Visually it’s stunning and if you have a certain bent you should see it. But I also think Scott has painted himself into a corner. It’s going to be tough coming up with a sequel that doesn’t disappoint.

June 22, 2012

How to slant a news article

Filed under: Media bias,News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:14 am

Note: As mentioned, my personal blog has been less active than formerly for a number of reasons both professional and personal. One is that I’ve launched a self-syndication venture. Here below is an example of one of my columns. You’ll note the style is different from my more rambling blog style. I’ll be posting my columns a decent interval after they go out to my subscribers so as not to give away what they pay me for. And I’ll be posting some of my previous submissions to get them out before potential customers (hint.)

I have a confession to make, I practice slanting news stories. In fact, sometimes I lie awake at nights thinking about how to do it.

However I sincerely hope this never shows up in what I actually write!

The reason I practice slanting news stories is that I study the practice and collect examples of it. Eventually I hope to write a book on the subject.

And gentle readers, there’s a lot of it going around – but I probably didn’t have to tell you that.

It’s done by both liberals and conservatives, and in fact each side has a think tank devoted to finding “gotcha!” examples of the other’s biased reporting. Not to be confused with Our Side’s fearless reporting of the truth with a capital “T.”

Nonetheless, anyone looking with an open mind is going to find more examples of liberal bias, but only because slightly more than 90 percent of national news reporters self-identify as “liberal.”

From MSN, Feb. 18. “In a rare display of openness, Sarah Palin took questions for an hour yesterday at an appearance on Long Island in New York. She’s still unsure of a presidential run:”

“Rare display of openness…” Not much doubt which side that writer is on. The comment is entered as a kind of toss-off, without support or examples of why this display of openness is “rare.”

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The point is, the statement is unsupported and the writer clearly expects you to take it on his/her say-so.

Notice something, this was probably unconscious. The writer may not be aware of writing a biased piece, and might be wounded should you suggest they did. They were just stating a self-evident fact that “everybody knows.”

That’s just the kind of thing that happens when you only hang around with people you agree with.

Another way to slant a story is to seize on a gaff, a clumsy misstatement, or a quote taken out of context, and hammer on it. If you’re a public figure who has to speak off the cuff into a battery of recorders often, there are bound to be some of those.

Conservatives are still getting a lot of mileage out of John Kerry’s, “I voted for the bill before I voted against it.” But… in the ordinary legislative process a bill may go through a whole series of rewrites, and amendments before it reaches its final form. Even the senator or representative who wrote it might not recognize it anymore.

It’s entirely possible to vote for a bill as introduced, and find yourself unable to vote for the finished product.

You can do this with photos too. Some people are naturally more photogenic than others, but if people are following you around snapping photos constantly, we’ll there’s going to be a fair number of unflattering ones in the bunch. Everybody yawns, grimaces, scratches themselves, etc from time to time. Snap a photo at just the right time…

Or better still, cull the archives for photos and take your pick.

As a journalist, I have a question about the ongoing media circus around the tragedy in Florida, where a neighborhood watchman fatally shot an African-American teenager.

Whatever the facts of the case may turn out to be in the long run, if they ever do emerge amid the agenda-driven coverage, I’d like to know two things.

One, is a five-year-old mugshot of George Zimmerman in an orange prison jumpsuit the only photo the media could find of him?

Well perhaps so, Zimmerman is not a public figure. But is a years-old photo of the victim

Trayvon Martin as a mere boy the only photo they could find? Surely a high school football player must have some yearbook photos around?

A whole book could be written about the subject, and someday I intend to. But in the meantime, this is an election year and you shouldn’t trust the media not to be advancing their own agenda through biased reporting.

Trust no one!

Except me of course.

June 7, 2012

Review: Men in Black III

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:40 am

Published in the print-only TV guide of The Marshall Independent.

The Men in Black are back.

Ten years after the release of Men in Black II (2002,) and fifteen years after the release of Men in Black the first (1997,) we are treated to the glorious good fun of Men in Black 3. I sure hope this isn’t a geometric progression, because then we’d have to have to wait another 20 years to catch the next installment.

In modern urban folklore, the men in black are mysterious operatives from a super-secret government agency who show up when people see UFOs to intimidate witnesses into keeping silent. Or maybe they’re aliens themselves.

Kerry Thornley, counterculture publisher, conspiracy theorist, founder of the Discordian religion, and onetime friend of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, claimed to have encountered the men in black on a few highly-unpleasant occasions.

From the movies of the same name, we know that the Men in Black are agents of some kind of agency dedicated to
“protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe.” The films are based on the Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham, originally published by Malibu Comics, and continued when Malibu was acquired by Marvel in 1994.

MIB also functions as a kind of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, keeping the resident aliens on Earth in line and undercover.

And it turns out there are a lot of aliens living among us in disguise. In fact quite a few of them work for the post office, as we learned in Men in Black II.

The Men in Black clean up the messes left after humans have encounters with aliens, with includes wiping the memories of anybody who has learned of the aliens among us.

This installment begins when an alien criminal Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from LunarMax prison seeking revenge against Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) who blew his arm off, prevented his species from conquering the Earth, and sent him to prison back in 1969.

Boris wants to go back in time to kill K.

He does.

But, K’s partner Agent J (Will Smith) remembers K when nobody else does. The new chief of MiB Agent O (Emma Thompson,) who has history with K, (OK, get it?) quickly figures out there’s a rip in the fabric of space-time and sends J back after Boris the Animal to save K, and the Earth.

Agent J teams up with his partner’s younger self (Josh Brolin,) which is a great set-up to give ytou some of K’s back story. You also get J’s back story, and his hitherto unknown family connection with the agency.

MIB3 is a strange loop story, in the tradition of the first Terminator movie. It’s also a fun flick with a lot of action, witty banter, and ‘60s in jokes.

Josh Brolin does a great job as young K, got the mannerisms down to the point you totally forget Tommy Lee Jones has only what amounts to a bit part in this episode. Will Smith is his usual wise-cracking self we’ve grown to love since he was the Fresh Prince.

The film also introduces a new character Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg,) an alien who sees not just the future, but all possible futures arising from any decision made in the here-and-now.

I hope we see more of him in the future that happens where they decide to make a Men in Black 4. Unless it’s the future where they decide to make a Men in Black 4 and the producers get lazy and complacent and it stinks.

This is a great father-son movie. Your boys will enjoy the action and the cool alien monsters, and you’ll like the humor and the clever plot devices.

And it doesn’t hurt that without hitting you over the head with it, there’s a fair amount of heroism, nobility, comradeship, and loyalty. The kind of thing you’re not ashamed to expose your kids to.

Powered by WordPress