Life (2017) Film Analysis: Cool Space Stuff with a Predictable Story

Life is an R-rated movie set in space starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. For me this film is a perfect example of mindless entertainment. It’s a film with a clear goal: to gross you out and keep you on the edge of your seat. If you bought a ticket for this movie, you most likely knew what you were going to get. While this film does not offer much in the way of life-changing insight, it is still worthy of analysis.

The story of Life is one that has been recreated countless times in film and television. A crew of astronauts aboard the International Space Station discovers evidence of extraterrestrial life on the planet Mars. As the crew begins to research the alien, they discover that the alien is a lot more dangerous than they initially thought. The alien life form, named “Calvin” by school children on Earth, grows rapidly and focuses on killing the astronauts using its strength and ingenuity. We watch as the astronauts’ structured routine devolves into complete chaos as the alien tracks down and kills the crew members one by one.

It’s clear that Life is a low-budget script delivered in a high-budget fashion. Life makes up for its lack of narrative substance with gorgeous visuals and special effects. My favorite thing about Life is how realistically it depicts astronauts aboard the ISS. The entire film takes place in zero gravity and camera sometimes appears to be floating itself. If you watch films as visual art, then you will not be disappointed by Life. At times you can simply marvel at the images you are seeing on the screen in front of you.

Life is unabashed about its story from beginning to end. It is almost as if the creators of this film decided early on to abandon any hope of developing a complex narrative. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach to film making. The murderous alien formula is tried and true at this point but it says something that most of our movies about alien contact devolve into gore-filled chaos. This is fun to watch but I would like to see more experimentation with this kind of story

It’s strange to me that Life employs such expensive actors given its B-movie narrative structure. In an age where companies like Blumhouse specialize in producing successful movies for as little money as possible, you would think that other companies would catch on to this strategy. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to see Reynolds cracking jokes and Gyllenhaal commit to a haunted war veteran persona but I can’t help but think that other actors could portray these characters just as well for much less money.

Life is not a film that provides profound insight insight into the human condition. While many movies challenge you to look at things from a new perspective or to change your beliefs about something, Life delights in doing exactly the opposite. I can watch a movie like Life and enjoy it for what it is but I can’t help but think that a similar and more effective movie could have been made for less money.

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Get Out (2017) Analysis: This Film will change your Perspective on Life

Get Out is an incredibly surprising film. It combines aspects of comedy, horror and science fiction into one powerful statement on race in the 21st century. If you have not yet seen Get Out I strongly encourage you to watch the film as soon as possible because it is one of those rare films that changes your perspective for life.

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as an African American man named Chris Washington who visits the family of his girlfriend Rose Armitage. Chris is concerned that his girlfriend has not yet told her parents that he is black. Once they arrive at Rose’s family home, strange things start happening. The family employs two african americans as caretakers and Rose’s mom hypnotizes Chris to make him quit smoking. Each member of the family is awkwardly focused on Chris’s skin color to the point that he feels uncomfortable but he stays because he is committed to his relationship with Rose. Eventually we discover that the Armitage family has a secret plan to sell Chris’s body to the highest bidder and surgically transfer another person’s brain into Chris’s body. It’s a stunning twist that leaves you utterly breathless because it completely changes how you view the rest of the movie. The remainder of the movie involves Chris as he attempts to escape the family’s clutches and avoid the unfortunate fate of so many other African Americans.

This film is written and directed by Jordan Peele who is well known as a member of the comedy duo Key and Peele. I am not familiar with his comedic work but judging by the quality of Get Out I can say that this man is enormously talented. My favorite thing about Get Out is how the film balances elements of so many different genres. This has the effect of making you unsure whether you should laugh, cry or cringe at the events taking place on screen. Where most movies struggle to utilize one tone, Get Out triumphs at integrating multiple tones into one film.

I will say that this film is fairly slow through the first act. While mysterious events kept me intrigued, there was simply not enough in terms of character work to keep me engaged in the story. It appears that Jordan Peele’s strength lies in comedy and plotting because his characters are not exactly the most interesting. The main thing that keeps you engaged in Get Out is the mystery of what will happen next. A slow start is pretty much the only complaint I have against Get Out. For the most part, this is a very compelling film, especially once it hits its stride in the third act.

The ending of this film is one for the ages, the plot of the story is well crafted and the subject matter is very much relevant to what’s going on today. It’s hard to find anything bad to say about this movie. It’s amazing that this movie exists and that it was released in February. It’s a huge move for Jordan Peele who seems to be branching out from comedy to filmmaking and it’s a movie that will reward multiple viewings. Can you tell that I liked this movie?

Go watch it. You will not be disappointed.

Blair Witch Review

Blair Witch is the sequel to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. It is amazing that the original Blair Witch Project hit theaters nearly 18 years ago.  The reboot is directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett. These two also collaborated on films such as The GuestYou’re Next and V/H/S. Judging by their past work, it would appear that Wingard and Barrett are the perfect people to write and direct a rebooted blair witch film.

Blair Witch takes place many years after the events of The Blair Witch Project. Heather Donahue’s younger brother James plans to enter the Burkittsville woods with two friends and documentarian Lisa Arlington who hopes to make a film following James’s search. Two local residents accompany the search as well. It doesn’t take long before shit starts to hit the fan. The group inexplicably sleeps in until 2:00 PM and then finds stick figures hanging from the trees around the campsite. It only gets worse from here as more supernatural things interfere with the group’s search.

The original Blair Witch Project is credited as being one of the most crucial films in the history of horror cinema. It was the first film to utilize a found footage premise and it did so with an incredibly effective marketing campaign. The end result was a film that left viewers unsure whether it was real or not. The film achieved an stunning level or realism that encouraged viewers to believe that it was real “found footage” that was discovered in the Burkittsville woods. Any effort to reboot this film cannot have the same effect because of the rapid developments in technology over the past couple decades. Blair Witch understands this fact and smoothly incorporates present-day technology such as drones and webcams into its narrative. However one must suspend their disbelief to an extremely high level to accept the idea that this new Blair Witch is true found footage. The chances that this amount of footage would survive the events that occur are slim to none. The skills with which the film is shot and edited also helps diminish any “realistic” qualities.

Yet I assert that Blair Witch succeeds on both a technical level and with regards to entertainment. I was enthralled by every moment of this film. Perhaps I am predisposed to enjoy watching unsuspecting people meet a horrific downfall and the closer this downfall appears to reality, the more invested I am. Wingard treats this film as a longer version of a segment from V/H/S, where found footage is utilized throughout. Blair Witch starts innocently and the ending is where the real meat of the film resides. The only complain I can muster is that Blair Witch uses too many “jump scare” moments that are cheap and do an injustice to the film’s goal of realism. The original Blair Witch Project had no jump scares so you would think that the reboot would do the same. The tendency of my fellow audience members to react loudly to these jump scares exacerbated my hatred of them.

Aside from this small complaint, Blair Witch is a must-see film for horror fans.

Green Room (2016) Review: Beautiful and Violent Genre Perfection

Green Room is the third feature film of Jeremy Saulnier, known for also directing 2013’s Blue Ruin. The big name actors in Green Room are Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart. Sadly Yelchin stands out in this film for having recently died in a freak accident at a young age. Stewart is incredible as the leader of a group of neo-nazis in rural Oregon.

Green Room is essentially the story of a punk band’s misfortune on tour. Early on we see Yelchin’s character and another band member siphoning gasoline from cars in a nearby parking lot. But what can you expect? This is a hardcore punk band comprised of three young men and one woman so its not surprising to see them steal. The film establishes its characters early on so we can understand the consequences of what happens later. Through a series of bad events, the band accepts a gig playing at rural bar that they discover is filled with neo-nazis. After their set, the band stumbles upon a dead girl in the green room which sets of a series of events with grisly implications. The band becomes trapped in the green room while nazis plan to kill them to cover up the murder.

That’s really the gist of this film. There’s no obvious deeper meaning. This is a very primal and human movie. I found it incredibly refreshing. I feel like every movie I see these days pretends to have something deep on its mind. Every once in a while, it’s nice to see a movie with no pretensions whatsoever. It’s very clear who is bad and who is good and its beautiful to watch. That’s the other great thing about this movie. It’s absolutely stunning as a technical and visual achievement. Saulnier and his team have proven themselves adept at making movies. It’s only a matter of time before Saulnier rises to greater heights because his level of talent can only stay hidden for so long.

Green Room is an incredibly violent movie but each act of violence is felt deeply by its characters. Sometimes movies like Green Room can become sort of cartoonish in their overuse of violence. I find this off-putting. I don’t watch movies to laugh my ass of like a little kid when someone’s head get chopped off. Some of the special effects are a bit phony looking for my taste but I appreciate what Green Room is trying to do. Saulnier and company are trying to make a fun genre movie for people like me. It’s a movie that would appeal to the band members in the movie. It’s brutal and doesn’t give a fuck. The writing in this movie is also phenomenal. Dialogue creates a sense of history and purpose for the characters without getting too deep.

Watching Green Room is like taking a class in how to create a low-budget horror thriller hybrid. I will definitely be watching this film again so I can soak up how it achieved its effectiveness. I love that Green Room is the movie Saulnier decided to make after Blue Ruin, because while I enjoyed Blue Ruin, it didn’t have that much of an effect on me. Green Room on the other hand is the kind of movie that I find perfect in every way.

They Live Analysis: The most Relevant Film of the 1980s

They Live is a science fiction action horror film written and directed by John Carpenter in 1988. It stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. Roddy Piper plays a drifter, called John Nada in the credits, who discovers a secret ruling class of aliens by wearing sunglasses. They Live is famous for having a great fight scene and great cheesy lines. Carpenter has called They Live a documentary because the world it depicts is so similar to the world of today.

I watched They Live because it was featured on an episode of The Canon podcast. This podcast is a great resource for film nerds. I could tell from Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson’s thoughts on the film that it needed to be seen sooner rather than later. I don’t usually see every film that they talk about so this one was different. When this film came out, I had yet to be born so how would I have any knowledge of its existence?

One of my favorite things about this film is hard to describe. There’s a certain vibe or feel to some 80s movies that adds to the experience. I wasn’t alive in the 80s but I can feel what it was like to live there from movies. John Carpenter’s films feel particularly grounded in their historical time and place. I find myself wishing that I had lived during the 80s to experience the decade’s great films firsthand.

The premise and ideas of They Live are more relevant today than they were in 1988. The world of They Live is the world of today, except for the aliens. The United States is ruled by money and those with money do everything they can to maintain their power at the expense of those beneath them. The lower classes are kept in check by their need to obey and consume. The truth is painful in They Live. Wearing the sunglasses gives John Nada a headache because reality is physically painful to experience. It is so much easier to succumb to the wishes of those in power. But there is so much to gain from attacking the system. The part of They Live where John Nada and Frank Armitage infiltrate the aliens’ base, shooting them left and right, is such satisfying cinema. It’s the ultimate power fantasy for anyone who has ever suffered from being abused or exploited.

TV is the enemy in They Live. It is the most useful alien tool in keeping the lower classes at bay. Somehow destroying a broadcasting signal reveals all the aliens in their true form. The final scene of this film depicts a woman looking down as the man she is having sex with has been revealed as a ghoul.

I recommend seeing They Live as soon as possible.

If you have any recommendations for great films from the 80s, let me know.

 

The Witch (2016) Review

There’s something about watching a movie you don’t quite understand. You can appreciate what’s happening but you know that you are missing something on a deeper level. The Witch feels like a documentary about a typical New England family in the 17th century. It’s an incredibly immersive world and everything about it feels real. The Witch may be one of the most perfect movies that I have seen. It accomplishes something that few horror films have. I do not hesitate in calling The Witch my favorite horror movie of all-time.

There’s a certain “je ne sais quois” feeling to The Witch. Something lurks beneath the surface. Something unsettling yet subtle. A feeling that is both terrifying and ecstatic. It has something to do with the supernatural elements of the film. So many horror movies are unwilling to give a face to the horror. Let the audience imagine the horror because their minds will always create something more horrifying than what actually exists on screen. The Witch plays this game for a little while but it also does not. We actually see the titular witch early in the movie when she steals the family’s baby. There is a truly haunting sequence where the witch slaughters the baby and rubs its blood on her body and broomstick. It’s unequivocally terrifying and it gives you an idea of what the family is up against.

The Witch is a bit slow at times, but I was always engaged with what was happening. Everything is authentic to its time period. I will definitely be watching this film with subtitles as soon as possible. I can’t recommend this film enough. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to see it in theaters. I was recently terminated from my movie theater job so I am no longer able to see free movies in theaters. The Witch will go down as the last film I saw as a movie theater employee.

This is a somewhat short review. I will not be writing on this site as frequently because I will have to start paying for movies again. But fear not loyal readers because I will still be writing about whatever I am streaming via Netflix or watching through some other method. If you came to my site for hot takes on the latest blockbusters hitting the big screen, then you will be disappointed.

Congrats on making it to the final paragraph. If you are still reading, give me a recommendation of something to watch on Netflix or wherever. I will be eternally grateful for your sharing of taste.

 

Scanners (1981) Review

Do you ever start watching a movie only to abandon it half-way through?

Such was my experience watching Scanners. Don’t get me wrong, Scanners has some very interesting things going on. The special effects are pretty awesome. A dude’s head explodes and people make the strangest looking facial expressions that I have ever seen. What would it feel like if someone were reading your thoughts? According to the facial expressions in this Scanners, it would feel like you were getting shocked with a taser

Scanners is directed and written by David Cronenberg. That name implies particular qualities, so it makes sense to start a discussion of Scanners with a discussion of David Cronenberg and all that is associated with him.

Here’s what I associate with David Cronenberg:

  • Body Horror
  • Canada
  • The 1980s

Scanners is missing something. While watching Scanners, I realized that the movie was not doing enough to keep me interested. Perhaps that says more about me that it says about the film. Regardless, I knew at the halfway point that if I continued watching Scanners, I would not have a good time. For what its worth, this is a sign that the film failed to keep me engaged.

Films usually keep me engaged in one of several ways. Usually this is a combination of compelling characters, interesting ideas, and visual style. Scanners is a lacking in the compelling characters category. I simply didn’t care what happened one way or another. The main character didn’t have a particular reason why he was tracking down the villain. As a result, the film doesn’t feel human. None of the characters are relatable or convincingly human. What this film needed was more meaningful character interaction, so the audience would actually care about what’s going on. Without that, we are left with a tiresome story held up by a sci-fi premise that doesn’t do enough. Scanners feels like merely a vehicle for Cronenberg to experiment with telepathic characters.

Unless you are especially interested in body horror special effects or telepathy, don’t waste your time watching Scanners. Watch something else that actually care about whether viewers are interested or not. As my first experience with Cronenberg’s early films, I have to say that I am unimpressed. Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were both better films. Perhaps Cronenberg gets better with age. I will probably watch a few more of his early films such as The Fly. Even if its a bad movie, I will still learn something. Sometimes a bad film can teach you more than a good film.