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Knight at the Movies: Nate & Margaret; Prometheus
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2012-06-05

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Some of the most rewarding friendships of my life—and in the lives of several of my gay male friends—have been with straight single women old enough to be my mother and, in a couple of cases, grandmother.

To a fault, these women have been what the world would describe as eccentrics—defiant individuals with a tough exterior, masking depths they've kept tightly hidden from the world. Always, it's been my pleasure to get past the difficult veneer and find the razor-sharp wit; the fierce, proud intelligence; and, best, the vulnerability lurking beneath the damaged soul.

I'd never thought much about the power and importance of these relationships in my life until encountering local out director Nathan Adloff's feature debut, Nate & Margaret, which tracks such a friendship. It may be the first movie that explores the special bond that often exists between younger gay men and older straight women—reason enough for queer audiences to support the film which is having its Chicago debut at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., on June 8, 11 and 12. (Adloff and cast will attend the screenings.) Given the rather twee set-up the scenario brings to mind, Adloff's movie (co-written with Justin D.M. Palmer) is a lovely surprise—it's endearing rather than sticky-sweet; truly charming rather than forced; and is enriched by its two leading performances as well as several memorable supporting turns.

Nate, played by Tyler Ross—who made a wonderful mark in the recent indie The Wise Kids and ably takes the lead here—is a 19-year-old budding filmmaker who has come to Chicago from a small town. With his shy, goofy grin and gentle, polite approach to life, it's not hard to intuit how the friendship between him and the irascible 52-year-old loner Margaret (played by the wonderful Natalie West), a neighbor in his apartment building, started. Margaret is a waitress and would-be stand up comic whose social skills seem to have all but vanished after what we learn has been a tough upbringing.

Adloff starts the movie at the point where the two have already become inseparable best friends. We get to experience the easy camaraderie they enjoy, but it would have been nice to see the friendship at an earlier stage—especially given that within the first 15 minutes the bond begins to fray. (At 78 minutes, the film could have easily devoted additional screen time to the duo's initial attachment.)

Trouble for the two arrives when Nate finds himself falling hard for the sexually aggressive James (Conor McCahill), who will become his first boyfriend. James doesn't understand the appeal of Margaret at all—nor does the derisive, hardcore party girl Darla (the vastly experienced young actress Gaby Hoffmann, who makes the most of her scenes)—and we are cued to find them insensitive and insulting about Nate's friendship with Margaret. The material needs the edge they bring to the movie but, by default, both quickly become villains in the piece by representing conformity.

As the film plays out, Nate stands on the precipice—deciding whether to follow the herd or his own voice—with the survival of the off-beat friendship with Margaret (who herself has grown in a different, surer direction) as the deciding factor.

It's easy to tie Nate & Margaret to Harold & Maude, the Hal Ashby classic that famously revolves around a similar relationship. But to make comparisons between the two (Nate & Margaret is gay and without the sex, it's wacky but without the funerals) is, I think, a disservice to Adloff's film, which has a lot more honest emotion and none of the phony (although admittedly hilarious) set pieces of Ashby's film. As Adloff and his co-creatives easily prove, Nate & Margaret doesn't need any comparisons to stand on its own. See www.nateandmargaret.com .

Ridley Scott should only make sci-fi pictures. More than 30 years after Alien and Blade Runner made their mark, the stylish, famously detail-oriented director has yet to make a movie that resonates with viewers (Gladiator and Thelma & Louise, notwithstanding) as they have. Now, finally returning to the genre with Prometheus, a prequel of sorts to Alien, Scott has again created a film that will join those two as instant classics—but not unlike Blade Runner—it's one that is tremendously flawed.

There's certainly nothing wrong with the look of Prometheus, and Scott's production team (which includes the return of the original alien designer, H.R. Giger) has created a universe that is incredibly intoxicating. The movie, visually stunning, is like an elegant, sleek shark—a lethal killing machine—that slowly approaches with unspoken menace, and it's a delicious feeling to be back in the hands of the luxurious master.

The first sign of trouble , however, comes from the esoteric set-up—a comely pair of geologists (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Noomi Rapace and hottie Logan Marshall-Green) travel to a distant planet to check out what they think will be the origins of mankind and those who actually made humans in the first place. A cool and efficient robot (Michael Fassbender, fab as usual) and his blonde taskmaster of a boss, Charlize Theron (in a performance reminiscent of Ilsa, she wolf of the SS), preside over the trip, which the mysterious Weyland Corporation is financing. They're joined by a group of forgettable, easily dispatched supporting characters (unlike those in previous Alien films).

The philosophical underpinnings of the story sully what should have been the simple "us vs. them" approach of the other Alien pictures—a point emphasized as the group arrives on the faraway planet and the film moves into its action-packed last half. That's when the convoluted script—riddled with unbelievable character motivations matched by a plethora of unrealistic situations (to say the least)—becomes a distraction unto itself. Logic disappears from the movie and it seems as if whole sections had been removed. Although Prometheus is filled with striking set pieces (there is a remarkably icky scene with the gross-out factor of the chest-burster of the original)—they seem to come at you willy-nilly with no connective tissue. Even the motivations of the robot become hard to discern and the movie seems to end five times—but it keeps going. (It also opens the door for a sequel.)

And yet … with all those flaws, I still want to see Prometheus again—maybe 10 more times. I'll wager I'm not alone. This leads me to reiterate that Scott has indeed created another sci-fi classic—brilliant mess that it is.

Of related interest: John Carter, the sci-fi epic that cost Disney a fortune and famously didn't make it back or even close to it—has been released on Blu-ray and DVD. The film, an amalgamation of everything from Star Wars to Tarzan—is a lot more entertaining than its scant box office would lead one to believe (its tremendous Saturday matinee fare) and its beefcake star, Taylor Kitsch, is sure easy on the eyes.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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