Sunday, March 26, 2017

A partial review of LIFE

I walked into LIFE thinking it would be a GRAVITY like intelligent sci-film with an A-list cast and great visuals.  Actually what I got was a movie far closer to ALIEN - sleek, well-acted, but basically a derivative horror film. And as I don't do well with horror films, I left after the first hour.

Still for what it's worth, the movie rolls like this:  we're in the International Space Station and the action starts in media res.  Ryan Reynolds plays the character he always plays - a wise-ass cocky man who is highly skilled at something and ultimately has a heart of gold. In this case, Ryan/Rory is rescuing a set of soil samples from Mars that a previous astronaut suspected might contains microscopic living cells.  Back on board, Rory hands the soil over to scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare - JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL) who is delighted to discover a micro-organism that he lovingly tends until it grows to the size of a playful little starfish like creature that could sit in the palm of your hand.  Naturally, LIFE is not going to be about how this new alien species and humanity learn to love each other. Very quickly the alien beastie, nicknamed Calvin, goes into hostile survival mode, and all the carefully set-up CDC security measures designed by Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson - THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN).  It escapes out of the lab and into the ship, and the rest is an ALIEN style hunter-prey thriller.  

Of the cast, the Russian and Japanese crewmembers (Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada) are actually among the most compelling - with a deeply ethical arc to play out and the emotional resonance of a family back home respectively.  Bakare is also impressive as the biologist who has the most sympathy for Calvin's survival instinct. But Reynolds barely moves beyond self-parody, Ferguson is under-used and Jake Gyllenhaal is under-drawn as the kind of nice, banal, everyman figure.  Nonetheless, this film has the makings of something great given its superb cinematography from DP Seamus McGarvey (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS) and elegantly choreographed space sequences from Director Daniel Espinosa (CHILD 44).  It's just a shame that the basic story is such a predictably derivative version of a justifiably classic space-horror.  For that, we have DEADPOOL writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese to blame. 

LIFE has a running time of 103 minutes and is rated R. The movie is on global release everywhere but South Korea, where it opens on April 6th; France, Brazil and Greece where it opens on April 20th and Japan where it opens on July 8th. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017


I have a strangely warm-hearted nostalgic recollection of the cheesy 80s motorcycle cop show CHiPs - enough that I ventured into the cinema to watch the ill-reviewed big screen remake starring writer-director Dax Shepard as rookie cop John Baker and Michael Pena as his partner Ponch.  I was expecting a knowing but essentially light-hearted and funny post-modern take on the TV show, in the same vein as the recent 21 JUMP STREET film. But by contrast, CHiPs felt underwritten, crude, and just not as clever.  Worse still, Shepard and Pena are fine on screen together, but they certainly don't have the natural chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. 

So in this version Ponch is the cover name for an FBI agent from Florida who is sent to investigate corruption in the California Highway Patrol that gives the movie its acronym-title.  He's meant to be a sex addict (how funny!) and not that good on a motorbike and is grieving his dead partner.  Ponch is teamed up with middle-aged ex pro biker Baker (Shepard) whose body is so messed up from biker accidents he can barely walk, and who's becoming a cop to win back his bitchy ex-wife (played by Shepard's real wife Kristen Bell). 

The humour is broad and crude and often misses the mark but on the handful of occasions it works this really is a laugh out loud funny movie.  It's also surprisingly violent, in a kind of weirdly arbitrary way - and ventures into social commentary territory that it should probably leave well alone. Still, there are worse films out there.

CHIPS has a running time of 100 minutes and is rated R.  The movie is on global release everywhere except Australia, where it opens on April 6th; Germany where it opens on April 20th; Brazil where it opens on May 4th; and Cambodia, where it opens on August 11th.