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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Silence is a brutal examination of Faith and Humanity

Martin Scorsese’s Silence is beautiful to behold yet difficult to digest. Rather than look for meaning in the assurances of faith, Silence examines the absurdity and failure of priests to bring Catholicism to shogun-era Japan. At times the film is difficult to watch but it is undeniably a masterpiece from one of the most talented filmmakers of our time.

The plot centers on two Jesuit priest who journey from Portugal to Japan in the 17th century to locate another priest and spread Christianity. The priests travel to several small villages to facilitate the conversion of the locals to Christianity. Their task is complicated by government soldiers who terrorize the village and its residents for practicing Christianity yet the priests never back down from their mission because they truly believe that converting the inhabitants of rural Japanese fishing villages to Christianity is a worthy endeavor. The priest named Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) is captured when a fisherman named Kichijiro betrays him by luring him into the hands of the soldiers. Rodrigues is then brought to Nagasaki where he “the Inquisitor” explains to him why Catholicism does not have a place in Japan. Rodrigues also meets with his old mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who encourages Rodrigues to give up his mission because he believes that it is a lost cause. Ferreira has assimilated into Japanes culture since he believes that continuing to convert the Japanese people to Catholicism will only result in more suffering for the Japanese and the Catholic priests. Eventually Rodriuges gives in to Ferreira’s request and commits apostasy by stepping on an image of Jesus.

In Silence nothing is automatically right or wrong. There are many characters with ideas of what is right and what is wrong, but the film itself never seems to formally recognize any ideas as being better than others. The only true thing about this film is that the world is complex and often there are no easy answers to questions about humanity. People believe that everyone should be Catholic but actually trying to convert people in a foreign culture to Catholicism when another religion already exists is a task fraught with difficulty. The priests in Silence are flawed by their belief that Christianity should exist in every part of the world.

In addition to its intellectual strength, Silence is also breathtaking at times and features fantastic cinematography. Its great that Scorsese’s latest films are so long yet entertaining. It’s as if Scorsese was so used to making films the old way that making films nowadays is like going from safety scissors to actual scissors. Scorsese continues to hit home runs every time he steps up to the plate.

 

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.

Hell or High Water Review

Hell or High Water is written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David Mackenzie. While I am unfamiliar with Mackenzie, I know that Sheridan wrote the script for Sicario which is one of the best films of last year. Once I knew that Sheridan had wrote the script for Hell or High Water, I rushed to the theater to see the film. That was the first time I had been to the theater in several months.

Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two brothers who rob banks to pay banks. Pine plays the quiet and intelligent brother while Foster is more of loose cannon. The brothers’ plan is to steal only a few thousand dollars during each robbery so that the FBI will not get involved. Jeff Bridges plays a nearly retired cop who decides to investigate robberies with his partner played Gil Birmingham. We spend significant amounts of time with both duos and the dynamic between both is quite entertaining. The brothers’ goal is to pay the debt on a reverse mortgage so that their mother’s home will not be foreclosed. This honorable intention justifies their illegal behavior in my mind and provides a commentary on the difficulty of surviving in the United States where debt slavery is a very real problem. I was definitely on board with the brothers’ goal.

One of my favorite things about Sheridan’s writing is the realistic quality of the dialogue. Everyone from Pine to the most ancillary character sound incredibly realistic. The most attention grabbing scenes in the film are not the heists but the interactions involving everyday people living in Texas. Truly this is a testament to Sheridan’s abilities as a writer. As a psychology and linguistics nerd, these scenes are by far my favorite in the film.

Hell or High Water does not contain an agenda. The film simply presents a realistic story and lets the audience draw their own conclusions. I find this kind of film so refreshing because it seems the majority of films in theaters these days are needlessly complicated. Hell or High Water is as entertaining as film gets for me. While I could nitpick certain elements that bothered me, I would much rather celebrate the movie for what it accomplishes than degrade it for minor personal annoyances. I would hope to share my appreciation for this film so that others can understand and share in my love for it.

Hell or High Water is an interesting second step for Sheridan. Sheridan has made a film with more local color that seems more personal than Sicario. With Hell or High Water, Sheridan has transitioned near seamlessly from one project to another.

The Nice Guys (2016) Movie Review

The Nice Guys is the latest film from writer/director Shane Black. The film stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as detectives in 1977 Los Angeles searching for a girl who is involved in some shady dealings.

Shane Black is known for creating films such as Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3. I had no real exposure to Black’s films prior to watching The Nice Guys.

I regret not seeing this movie in theaters because it is truly a fantastic film. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are both perfectly cast and there is a ton of humor in the film. I don’t usually laugh at movies but this film had so many moments that were simply hilarious. I was pleasantly surprised at just how funny this film was.

The Nice Guys also succeeds on a technical level. You just know while watching that Black and company made every effort to make this film as good as possible. This is most visible in the production design meant to replicate a 1977 Los Angeles setting. Every scene in the movie feels perfect and the plot slowly builds to an incredible climax.

This is the kind of movie that I hope to watch again because I know there will be details that I missed the first time around. From experience I know that if I feel willing to watch a movie twice, then that movie is something special.

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.