Life

Life is a movie that we’ve all seen a number of times before at this point. Extraterrestrial life exists and oh no! it likes to eat us. The trouble is, this is perhaps my favourite boilerplate science fiction story, and I will get suckered into going to see it every single time.

Well, I’m a moron. And I went to see Life.

I realized that I had no choice but to see this film when I watched the trailer and it seemed to be a contemporary take on Alien with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. I adore Alien and I’ve been a fan of a lot of Gyllenhaal’s recent roles. So, while I wasn’t expecting a brilliant film, I was at least hoping for a competent and entertaining space yarn.

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It just kind of sucks, though.

The film maintains a reasonable degree of tension for perhaps a half hour or so. The perfunctory setup of a space station crew in the near future retrieving samples from the surface of Mars is more or less solid, giving each of the cast a little screen time and endearing us to them a bit, I suppose. Initial experiments on the “martian” cell yield some interest and lead to the film’s most gripping moments, after which things move rapidly downhill toward derivative by-the-numbers action and a great deal of disappointment.

They coax the alien cells back into life (clever title, guys), and the cells turn into a jelly monster that wants to make everybody dead and suck on coolant fluid. The crew takes turn looking worried and getting dead. Decaying orbit, Earth, yadda-yadda.

I came away from Life wondering if I may have enjoyed it more if it weren’t so clearly made by competent people. Maybe this all would have been more enjoyable if it were a low-budget shlock-fest. The cast does their best with what they’re given, and for the most part they’re better actors than the material deserves. The movie doesn’t look cheap, although I can’t claim that it looks inspired in any particular way. It’s tightly edited and scripted in a way that suggests that it was produced using a checklist of beats that a movie like this needs to hit and they didn’t have time for digressions into wit or personality.

In the end it just sort of lies there onscreen, devoid of its very namesake. If I were a smart reviewer, I would probably use that line to end this review. I’m not, though. I’ve already established that I’m a moron, so I have a few more points to make.

life2Is it possible for Ryan Reynolds to be in a movie and stop being Ryan Reynolds for five fucking seconds and actually act for a change?

life_2017-15If a movie like this really wanted to break new ground, it would include non-white characters that exist as something beyond just grist to the mill. Also, if you think that this is a spoiler, you haven’t been paying attention to the way that films treat people of colour.

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While we’re talking about new ground, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I am going to say that this movie ends exactly the way that you’ll expect that it ends, which is heavily telegraphed by one of the trailers.

This brings me to trailers in general. I love trailers and I think that they may be an art form unto themselves at this point, but the correlation between quality of trailer and quality of film seems to be nonexistent. This film’s best scene is in this trailer, sure. But the trailer also gives the impression that this film might be fun to watch.

Or have some fun scares.

Or be more than just a CGI jelly monster flappin’ around like a death-dealing windsock.

But if you’ve ever wanted to hear Jake Gyllenhaal give a dramatic reading of Goodnight Moon, you should probably pony up and go see this movie. It might be your only chance. Weirdo.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Confinement is so hot right now.

Taken in tandem with this autumn’s stuck-in-a-shed opus, Room, 10 Cloverfield Lane cements the last 6 months as perhaps the greatest era of media involving the twin-themes of claustrophobia and distasteful, dangerous men since R. Kelly dropped the opening chapters of the interminable “Trapped In The Closet” in 2005.

10 Cloverfield Lane spends the majority of its run-time making our skin crawl within the gloomy confines of a doomsday prepper’s fallout shelter (an admittedly roomier setting than Room‘s room). John Goodman’s Howard plays host to two ‘guests’, making a big fat deal about how his generosity has prevented them from perishing in whatever calamity he claims is unfolding out in the open air. We’re left with 100 minutes of tough-as-nails tension as the house guests struggle to discern whether or not they’d be safer taking their chances on the other side of the wall.

Goodman is operating at a fever pitch of unpredictable threat here, bringing to mind his performance in the Cohen Bros’ gem Barton Fink, but it’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s movie. As Michelle, she exudes a palpable vulnerability and MacGyver-scale resourcefulness, becoming almost impossible not to root for. Even in the (very few) moments when the film decides to play it a little silly, Winstead sells it handily.

10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds as a creep-fest that uses its economy of scale to every advantage. The terrific performances are bolstered by a solid look and some very interesting & effective sound design. It’s a Bad Robot joint, so it inevitably gets J.J. Abrams’d (the spoiler is in the title, for fuck’s sake), but by that point I had been so thoroughly charmed, I’m not sure what they could have done to irreparably mess it up.

Maybe an R. Kelly song.

Maybe if the kid from Room had’ve shown up and started talking to the shower curtain or something. Even then, though – Fun time at the movies!

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