Life

VkEOtTI

2017

Columbia Pictures/Skydance Media

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Produced by David Ellison/Dana Goldberg/Bonnie/Julie Lynn

Written by Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick

See, it’s a good thing that I let a couple of hours pass by between my seeing a movie and writing a review. Because if I had written a review of LIFE right after coming out of the theater I would now be telling you that it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Which isn’t fair to the movie and isn’t true. After all, I’ve seen “The Blue Lagoon” “Cursed” “Cabin Fever” “Altitude” and “Hostel.” All of which were far more excruciating movie watching experiences than LIFE. And it’s not even that LIFE is really all that bad of a movie. It’s worse in that it’s an unnecessary movie. I would have expected to see a movie like this on The SyFy Channel as it’s no more than an “Alien” knock-off. Sure it’s got big star names such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. All of whom must have done this movie as a favor or for contractual obligations as there’s nothing they do in this movie that is particularly outstanding in terms of acting. And it’s got a nice budget for special effects which are pretty good.

But here’s the thing; the days when Science Fiction movies lived and died on their special effects are long gone. Because the technology has advanced to the point where there really is no such thing as a movie having crappy special effects anymore. Every Science Fiction movie we see now has eye-popping special effects that don’t even impress us anymore because we take it as a given that every movie has fantastic special effects. So to really get us into the movie it’s got to have either great characters or a terrific story or preferably, both. LIFE has neither. And at 103 minutes it doesn’t give itself time to have either. The hostile alien antagonist shows up almost at the beginning of the movie and barely 20 minutes in, a major cast member is killed off. And since that cast member provided most of the movie’s wit, charisma and humor up to that point, the rest of the movie is doomed to be flat, predictable and dull.

life3

The multinational crew of the International Space Station is overjoyed with recovering a probe from Mars that contains soil samples that contain proof of extraterrestrial life. The dormant organism responds to stimuli and soon not only returns to life but quickly grows into a creature that the crew’s exobiologist Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) describes as “all muscle, all brain.” The news is relayed to Earth and the news is received with such joy and hoohaw that there’s even a contest to name the thing among elementary schools in the U.S. The creature is christened ‘Calvin’ and there is much joy and celebration.

On Earth, that is. Not on the space station because Calvin breaks out of the lab and quickly establishes that it is hostile and deadly, killing one crew member and serious maiming another in less time than it took me to type this sentence. And from then on it’s a battle for survival. Calvin gets larger and more intelligent the more it kills and the crew soon comes to realize that no matter how this battle comes out, Calvin cannot get to Earth.

life-kodi-movie-2017

Now I really wish there was more for me to tell you about the movie but that’s it. Really. There’s no characterization to speak of so we really don’t get a chance to know these people before they start getting brutally killed off one by one. There is a scene where the Japanese member of the crew (Hiroyuki Sanada) is shown watching his daughter being born on Earth and for the rest of his time in the movie he constantly repeats how he has to get back to Earth to see her. Okay, I’m not entirely heartless. I fully understand the need of any father to want to see and hold his newborn daughter. But in this case, this is just lazy shorthand characterization to try and make us care about the character without really getting to know him. Give me reasons why I should care about this particular father and his desire to get back to Earth.

life-2017-movie-stills

Rebecca Ferguson who was such a knockout in “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” tries her best to bring some real emotion to her underwritten role and I give both her and Jake Gyllenhaal props for doing the best they can with such thin material to work with. And once I found out that the writers of this movie were the same writers responsible for the stupendously boring “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and the spectacularly unfunny “Deadpool” I knew exactly what the problem with the movie was.

My advice? Wait for LIFE to show up on Netflix or whatever is your favorite streaming service of choice if you really want to see it. It’s not worth burning the gas to go see it in the theater.

60969_ppl

103 Minutes

Rated R

Southpaw

20150422095029294545

2015

Escape Artists/Fuqua Films/The Weinstein Company/WanDa Pictures/Riche Productions

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Todd Black/Jason Blumenthal/Steve Tisch/Peter Riche/Alan Riche/Antoine Fuqua/Jerry Ye

Written by Kurt Sutter

Previous to seeing SOUTHPAW for myself I got slightly involved in a Facebook conversation about the movie. A poster said that while he liked the movie he thought it was far too cliché. See, I dunno about that. Presumably one goes to see a boxing movie (or western or science fiction movie) with certain expectations that one is going to see elements unique to that genre. Is it cliché to have horses and six shooters in a western? No. You go see a western and you’re waiting for that stuff. It’s part of the fun of seeing a genre movie. SOUTHPAW is about the rise and fall of a boxer who suffers an emotionally crippling personal loss and it destroys his whole world. He then has to walk the long hard road of redemption to recover what he’s lost

Is this new or daring or innovative? Absolutely not. I bet that you can name at least a dozen boxing movies with that very same plot. Hell, Warner Brothers used to crank ‘em out by the truckload back in the 1930s and 40s. But as so often occurs in movies of this type, it’s the execution we pay attention to and look for. And how well is SOUTHPAW executed?

Pretty damn well, actually. Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, Light Heavyweight Champion of The World. Life is very sweet for Billy. He’s got a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) a brainy daughter (Oona Laurence) and owns a mansion and a yacht. His wife Maureen persuades him to quit while he’s still at the top. She’s worried that Billy’s highly unusual style of boxing is going to brain damage him. And it’s one hell of a style that consists of Billy letting his opponents pound him into hamburger before he decides to uncork and put them out with one punch. And it could just be me (and it usually is) but I got the distinct impression that Billy didn’t have all 52 cards in his deck even before he became a boxer.

MKT_2422_Southpaw_Screening_socialpost4

Then comes the devastating personal loss that sends Billy right off the rails. He turns to drink and drugs. He becomes unstable and downright dangerous in the ring. His license is suspended and to pay off debts he is forced to sell everything he owns. His daughter is taken from him and put in the care of Child Protective Services officer Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris).

So there we have the fall. The rise comes in the form of Titus “Tick” Willis (Forest Whitaker) an ex-boxer himself who now runs a gym where he trains disadvantaged ghetto kids in the sweet science. Tick trained the only boxer who ever beat Billy and now Billy wants Tick to train him. And so begins the road to redemption.

Southpaw-2

In a way, there’s a certain satisfaction in our knowing how this movie is going to play out. We know we’re going to get emotional scenes between the boxer and the daughter where they have to work through their mutual pain. We know we’re going to get scenes where the grumpy trainer lays down the rules to the boxer. We know we’re going to have the sleazy fight promoter tempting the boxer with one last shot at the title.

KfugF

I admire Jake Gyllenhaal a lot as an actor. He doesn’t believe in repeating himself and he’s got one of the most eclectic filmography of any modern day actor. He bulked up impressively for his role as Billy Hope and even though he mumbles most of his lines, I understood why he was doing that and just went with it. His supporting cast isn’t much help except for Forest Whitaker. At least with him, Jake Gyllenhaal has somebody to play with. The roles Rachel McAdams and Naomie Harris are little more than extended cameos. And if the person who insists on keeping on telling Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that he can act is somehow reading this then would you please stop telling him that?

Antoine Fuqua has long been one of my favorite directors and his filmography is just as eclectic as Gyllenhaal’s. And he’s probably the most underrated director working in Hollywood today. He can do major action stuff like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Shooter” gritty urban cop thrillers like “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Training Day” And now with SOUTHPAW he can add both a boxing film and family drama to his resume. How does he direct boxing matches? Well, the fights in SOUTHPAW are pretty much the same you see in most boxing movies from Hollywood. Guys punch each other so hard it sounds like sides of beef being whacked with baseball bats and you figure that their knuckles have to be exploding. If guys in real life boxing matches fought like boxers in the movies, somebody would be dead by the third round. But just go with it because it’s the emotional payoff that counts and SOUTHPAW delivers. It won’t be revered as a classic of the genre in years to come but it’s a well-made film. One full of sincerity and heart. It’s got love, pain, guts and at the end, a man stepping into the ring to prove to himself that he has pride and purpose on this planet and for a boxing movie, that’s just about all you need.

124 Minutes

Rated R

Source Code

2011

The Mark Gordon Company/ Vendome Pictures

Directed by Duncan Jones

Produced by Mark Gordon

Written by Ben Ripley

Duncan Jones directed one of my favorite movies of recent years: “Moon” which starred Sam Rockwell as a miner on The Moon who either is going mad from his three years of isolation or is one of a series of clones.  If you’ve never seen it, “Moon” is well worth checking out.  It’s the best Stanley Kubrick movie Stanley Kubrick never made.  So I was highly intrigued to see SOURCE CODE.  Unfortunately it didn’t come anywhere near engaging me as much as “Moon” and after about 45 minutes I was actually bored with the movie.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago bound train with no idea of how he got there or why the beautiful young woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) insists on calling him Sean.  Her name is Christina and it’s obvious from the way she talks that she knows Sean well.  Colter is totally gobsmacked.  The ID in his wallet isn’t his.  It belongs to Sean Fentress, a schoolteacher.  Colter is even more astonished when he goes to the bathroom and the face in the mirror isn’t his.   Colter returns to Christina to demand answers but before he can get them, the train explodes.

Colter doesn’t die.  Instead he wakes up again.  This time inside of a metal capsule where he is being questioned via computer screen by Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who frustrates Colter to no end with her stubborn refusal to explain where Colter is and how he got there.  You see, he remembers flying a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan.  And now he’s here.  And ‘here’ is The Source Code.  As Captain Goodwin explains, Source Code is a top secret military funded and operated time travel method by which Colter can inhabit someone else’s body in the past for exactly eight minutes.  And the body Colter inhabited died on that train which was blown up in a terrorist attack.  It’s vitally important that Colter find out who planted the bomb in order to prevent another, even more devastating bomb attack later on that same day.

This entails sending Colter back again and again and again to relive the last eight minutes of Sean’s life.  Every time he does so, Colter puts together even more of the puzzle.  He also falls more and more in love with Christina.  Which doesn’t sit well with Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) the creator of Source Code.

Right from the beginning Colter doesn’t trust either Dr. Rutledge or Captain Goodwin.  Both of them stubbornly refuse to explain anything other than he has to find the bomb and the bomber.  They won’t tell him how he got there.  Colter isn’t even sure this is all real since every time he returns to the capsule, the interior is different.  One time there’s ice inside of it.  Another time it changes shape right before his eyes.  He highly suspects it’s a training exercise, a virtual simulation.  But what if it isn’t?

Now I know this sounds terribly exciting but for me it wasn’t.  SOURCE CODE played out for me as a mash-up of “Groundhog Day” and “Quantum Leap.”  And I don’t think that was lost on the filmmakers as well since Scott Bakula provides the voice of Colter’s dad who we never see but is heard in a couple of emotional scenes.  The movie quickly settles down into a set series of events: Colter goes back in time.  He learns a little bit more about the bomb/bomber.  He has a few heartfelt longing looks with Christina and soulful dialog.  Train blows up.  He’s back in the capsule.  He argues with Captain Goodwin.  She sends him back to the train.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t bad, though.  Between this and the awful “Prince of Persia” I can see where he has the makings of an action hero.  He just hasn’t found the right material yet.  And SOURCE CODE does raise some intriguing notions about time travel including my favorite: that Colter actually isn’t going to the past.  He’s going to alternate Earths instead, since he’s creating new timelines that diverge from his taking over Sean’s body and attempting to change what has already happened.

Cool stuff, really.  I just wish it had entertained me more.  I do give SOURCE CODE props for being an actual science fiction film and not just a horror or action movie in sci-fi drag.  Still, I recommend giving this a viewing on a slow weekend if you really can’t find anything else that grabs your attention.

94 minutes

PG-13