Life – The squid from hell who can pilot rocket ships


Let’s take a look at this spin on the classic space alien genre.

Life starts as whimsically as a lakeside college beer party, and turns into Friday the 13th at Crystal Lake.

Plot

In a fictional present Nasa, and international space agency partners, intercept a sample from Mars at the International Space Station. They make an attempt to revive the organism which is one molecular cell. As I soak in the context, scratching my head I thought, that sounds like it may not be a great idea. What happens is a predictable, and sometimes gory cat and mouse game aboard the ISS, with a creature that resembles an ugly squid; named Calvin by schoolchildren from the U.S., paying homage to their elementary school.

Acting, Set Design, Cinematography and Music

Disappointingly Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) was the first one to be eaten by good ol’ Calvin the squid. I would have liked to see his character progress further in the film. Rory had that gritty edge that would have given the movie pockets of Independence Day humor. Instead with each inevitable death you got a feeling you were watching the Bills play the Patriots. There just wasn’t any hope.

Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) was the commander on the mission. Her dialog was stiff and mechanistic, and her emotional delivery was forced. Ariyon Bakare and Hiroyuki Sanada deliver good, but predictable performances. In the end they are just another meat buffet for  ravenous Calvin’s clutches.

Anchoring the cast, and the remaining parts of the movie, are David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson). There on screen chemistry saved the movie, and while there was no romantic connection, the outpouring of genuine human affection, by two people facing their mortality, was a joy to watch by two seasoned actors.

The score was matched well with the film, and built the right amount of suspense where needed.

Final Thoughts

“Life” was fun, and although it does not break new ground in the genre; it was an entertaining picture with pockets of acting excellence. There is a solid foundation created by this movie for a blockbuster action sequel.

 

Nocturnal Animals — A dip into tart genius


There is no doubt that the quality of acting, and story, in Nocturnal Animals is Oscar worthy. Additionally the story is complex and leaves you with after thoughts, which are the best kind. Viewing the film is almost a mandatory event especially for those who dwell in screen craft.

The film doesn’t make you feel good.  The film is dark and sinister. Amy Adams’ character (Susan Morrow) is cold and calculating, and even when she makes her final veiled attempt in the end she is reminded that she is lost, and has turned the meekest soul she encounters into a tepid bastard.

The genius of Nocturnal Animals is in the delivery and sequence of the parallel stories. The stories rely and feed on each other. They have nuggets in them that leave you questioning character  motives. I really can’t give any more away. Don’t watch or read spoilers. You should see the film.

It seems with each review of Amy Adams I keep repeating my views on her brilliance, this review is no different. Perhaps in the future I will write words on a movie I dislike, that she is in; however, if the future follows current trends I think that is a narrow possibility.

Jake Gyllenhaal handles emotion very well. From a giggle to a sob he can invoke any emotion. If I were to go into every crevice, only to pull out a weakness, because I feel it a duty to be thorough, then I think the Tony Hastings and Edward Sheffield characters would be the item I would choose. There is no lack of quality acting in Tony and Edward, but there characters are very predictable given there affable and meek personalities. So much so they almost become a little bit of an annoyance, like a person in line at a fast food restaurant that can’t make up there mind. Finally, I believe the genius of the Susan Morrow’s character is that she points out these annoyances, and solidifies her character traits in her over-reaction to them.

So take a dip into Nocturnal Animals, but take a shower after, and then watch a romantic comedy, or hug a loved one, to balance its tartness.

Manchester by the Sea — Step inside


Manchester by the Sea is a trip into a trapped psyche of a broken man, and at the end it is realized that what we have just experienced is a true work of art.

Casey Affleck starts us on a journey through the life of a cold man, and until we realize the extent of his pain, thoughts of a mediocre performance creep into our thoughts. What we discover, from within Lee Chandler’s hidden life annals, leave us shocked, in wonder, and anticipating the moment his emotional bottom will unfold. When will see it? How will it happen?  We realize there is no release. There is no bottom.  Chandler is a fundamentally different human being now. What we perceive, as cold self destruction, is really our reaction to his newly formed personality. Amazingly, what Affleck gives us, from within this newly created man, living through his never ending painful malaise, is a man of compassion and love, who is trying to limit his impact on the ones closest to him. All he wants is to flee into solitude.

Lucas Hedges and Affleck have a very well connected on screen chemistry.  The result is an alternating of whimsical humor, and eye watering heartbreak, that can only can come out of the forging of close personal relationships. These actors create this emotion for us masterfully.

I know, or should I say feel, a good movie when I sit through the rolling credits in contemplation with varying emotions. I sat at the end of Manchester by the Sea for five minutes.

 

Hacksaw Ridge — The Power of Plot


Hacksaw Ridge defines the raw emotion roller coaster film, and Gibson guides it perfectly leaving your soul throbbing. Some may say this film is a B action movie wrapped by a velvet story. I disagree, and the raw talent displayed by Andrew Garfield (Desmond Doss), and his supporting cast, enhance a story that easily could have become a cliche with another group of actors.

Andrew Garfield delivers a powerful performance, his face steering us on a dime, and keeping our emotions tuned throughout the film.  Gibson used Garfield’s incredible emotional range with several mid close-up shots. From the romantic scenes, in the beginning of the film, to the fear, and shock, of his journey through combat. His command over his delivery makes it easy to see why Garfield got the Oscar node.

Rachel Griffiths and Hugo Weaving–of “The Matrix” fame– show their acting experience as Doss’ parents.  Weaving’s performance stood out from the group, and it is my option, with high regard for Jeff Bridges’ performance in “Hell or High Water”, that Weaving deserves an Oscar nomination for Actor in a Supporting Role. Brilliant performance!

While allot of the movie was embedded with raw gore, it’s meant to offer just that. While other films offer a more multidimensional story and characters there is no denying the herculean weight of the Hacksaw Ridge story. It has it’s own orbit that consumes imperfections, that would be in tight focus in other pictures. It is going to be an Academy Award juggernaut.

 

 

Frontier — Season 1 — A watcher’s take


As a friend of mine said to me recently, Frontier is one of the “gems” of shows produced under the Netflix brand. The show chronicles the trade war between various powers of the fur trade in North America. The show is well cast, although the level of “F-bomb” use so often, in the early eighteenth century, is questionable. It seems the show’s writing takes a plunge into the Sopranos from time to time.

The acting is done well by the lead cast, but there are some areas where it could be better, in terms of character development. Declan Harp is played very well by Jason Momoa, but he is limited by the script. In the beginning his character seems to be a protagonist bent on righteousness, and liberation, from the clutches of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).  As the story unfolds Harp sinks into blood lust, with one guiding thought; to maim and kill Lord Benton, the corrupt HBC leader, who had brutally murdered his family.  Perhaps this is what the writers had in mind.  To show Declan being consumed by hate and revenge.  It will be interesting to see what character developments are coming in the next season.

The least exciting characters seems to be Clenna Dolan, although the acting done by Lyla Porter is not lacking, she is severely limited by her character, and I am looking forward to seeing the Clenna Dolan character eliminated from the next season. It is understandable that Clenna offers the conflict in the Michael Smith character to solidify his dedication to Harp; however, that part of the story has run its course and prolonging it could damage the entire series. The same can be said for the Michael Smyth character played by Landon Liboiron. At some point in the story Smyth needs to morph into a man, shedding his adolescent aura. The series may rely on it.

The main antagonist is played masterfully by Alun Armstrong. His character radiates hate and ruthlessness, and Armstrong plays the character with all his talent. Zoe Boyle as Grace Emberly is the best character on the show. You feel she has to be internally conflicted by her personal ambitions and her love for Harp. Her range acting is amazing, and it’s the best of the entire cast.

The set design and costumes are masterful, although probably historically inaccurate in very few cases, but that is being picky. The low light shots are vivid and without blackouts, which are one of my biggest disappointments when viewing night scenes.

I am looking forward to watching the story unfold in the new season.