Movie review: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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Movie review: Independence Day: Resurgence

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

Welcome to the review of another sequel of this summer. This time, it is Independence Day: Resurgence – a movie that came out 20 years too late and should have probably been left in the 1990s.

IMDb summary: Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind’s new space defenses be enough?

Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich is known for making disaster films. He, of course, made the original Independence Day feature back in 1996 as well as other mindless fun pictures of the 90s and the early 00s: 1998’s Godzilla and 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow. Most recently, he destroyed the world in 2009’s 2012 and burned the White House in 2013’s White House Down. Now, Emmerich is directing a sequel to a film that made him famous and created his brand in the first place.

The first Independence Day was cheesy, campy and yet still fun summer picture. I wasn’t even born when it first premiered, but I’ve seen it multiple times because TV re-runs are a thing. ID1 had a bunch of awesome and even iconic pop-culture moments: the President’s speech, the shot of the White House being blown up and the shot of Smith and Goldblum smoking cigars in the dessert. Hollywood has been trying to make an ID sequel for a long time and they finally did it 20 years later, hoping that it still would be a success. Well, I highly doubt that this is/will be the case. While last year’s summer disaster film San Andreas was both sorta critically acclaimed and profitable, I do not think that the audiences are really interested in these types of disaster films anymore. I, personally, have seen almost all of Emmerich’s films. I have also seen the majority of Michael Bay’s films. Moreover, I live in the world that is pretty f*cked up. Basically, what I am getting at is that the destruction of the world doesn’t surprise or interest people – we have seen it on screen  as well as in real life multiple times.

Writing and the Story

ID2 had 5 screenwriters: the director Emmerich, Dean DevlinNicolas WrightJames A. Woods and James Vanderbilt. Two of them are actors with minimal to no previous writing work and the two screenwriters of the group do not have a great track record either. Vanderbilt, for example, wrote both The Amazing Spider-Man films. While I can deal with a picture having 2-3 scriptwriters, 5 is definitely too much and that showed in the film. The movie’s story was so much bigger that it needed to be: ID2 had too many characters, too many background stories, too many unexplained storylines and too much of everything. It seems that all 5 people, who were responsible for the script, wanted to portray their individual ideas rather than create a great narrative collectively. Also, bigger does not necessarily mean better.

To begin with, the film had a way too long and way too slow set-up in the first half an hour. It also had a way too drawn out boss battle in the last half an hour. Somewhere in between, there was a good 1-hour movie.

The first ID started with the alien invasion, but its sequel had to catch up on all the old characters and introduce the new ones. It also had to set up a vague ‘thing’ that would help defeat the enemy in the end. It was quite hard and frustrating to sit through all of the set-ups since we all knew from the trailers that the aliens were coming back. I wanted to shout at the screen – JUST GET ON WITH IT.

While I did like the fact that we got to see the kid characters from the first film all grown up, I did not see the need to add even more (young and old) characters into the movie. That whole idea of the other virtual species in that ball shaped ship was also too much. All of the ‘humans are cool and efficient, let’s pat each other on the back’ ideas felt like they were shoehorned into the film and made me roll my eyes a few times. Since the President’s speech from the first film turned out fine, they decided to have 2 speeches in this film. Pullman’s character had a new cheesy speech as well as the new President. In general, the dialogue was pretty terrible. All of the sidelines – the kid’s on the bus and Goldblum’s characters father, those random gold diggers on the ship, the pilots attacking or falling, the scientists with that ball ship, the politicians and all the screens, some random African nation fighting the aliens, alien telepathy, government and funding for the scientist – OMG. In short, everything was too convoluted and too over the top. Also, nothing made much sense because not one sideline was explained or explored properly – there wasn’t enough time for a few of them, let alone all of them.

The end of the picture also tried to set up a third film, which I doubt will materialize. Well, maybe in another 2 decades or maybe never for the better.

Directing and the Visuals

While I had a lot of problems with the movie’s story, I did enjoy the visuals. The CGI looked good, as it should, in 2016. The opening recap with the voice-over speech was a cool way to open the film. All the futuristic technology were also visually interesting and I did like the premise that people used the alien technology to make the world better. The battles were also interesting but some of them could have lasted shorter.

Acting

As I have already mentioned, Resurgence had way too many characters, so its ensemble cast was huge. Some of them had better performances, others – worse ones, so overall, acting wise, ID2 was a mixed bag.

Those who came backJeff Goldblum as David LevinsonBill Pullman as Thomas J. WhitmoreBrent Spiner as Dr. Brakish Okun, and Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson. Goldblum was great in his role and was my favorite part of the film. Pullman felt a bit shoehorned in but was also quite useful. Spiner’s character could have been easily replaced – while I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t a stereotypical gay character, I did not really see the need to keep him alive, or in a coma for 20 years. Why Goldblum’s character’s father played by Judd Hirsch came back, is beyond me. He and his children group, led by Joey King as Samantha only slowed down the film and didn’t contribute at all to its quality.

Will Smith chose not to return for ID2 and was replaced by his ‘son’ and another pilot. I wish Smith would have come back: it is obvious that he didn’t need ID2 since he is getting plenty of work without it, however, the decision to return would have shown some kind of loyalty to the project that helped him transition from TV to movies in the first place. Also, his participation in ID2 might have made the film better. On the other hand, I doubt if there would be enough place for him, with so many unnecessary characters being introduced.

New charactersSela Ward as Elizabeth Lanford, the 45th President, William Fichtner as Joshua Adams, a U.S. General, Deobia Oparei as Dikembe Umbutu, a Congolese warlord, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dr. Catherine Marceaux, a British medical scientist, and Nicolas Wright as Floyd Rosenberg, an accountant. Ward was terrible in her role: her one-liners to attack were super cheesy and she didn’t help the plot much – definitely should have been cut or replaced. Fichtner played a much better political leader and could have been in charge from the beginning of the film. Oparei was there to add diversity to the cast and while the ideas that were introduced through his character were interesting, there was no time for them. Same goes with Gainsbourg’s psychology ideas – interesting but unexplored. Wright’s character was included for comedic relief, which felt forced, out-of-place and boring. The film would have been better without him.

New pilots: Liam Hemsworth as Jake MorrisonJessie Usher as Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, Maika Monroe as Patricia WhitmoreAngelababy as Rain Lao, and Travis Tope as Charlie Miller. All of the new pilots were fine in their roles but I think the film would have benefitted if it reduced their number. I was happy to see Hemsworth getting more work, now that The Hunger Games franchise is over. Usher’s and Monroe’s characters were also okay and had an organic place in the story since they appeared as kids in the firs film (played by different actors back then). However, Angelababy’s character was obviously there to appeal to the Chinese audiences (get that Chinese box office money, Fox!). What the appeal of Tope’s character was, is beyond me.

In short, Independence Day: Resurgence was a watchable movie, with terrible writing (too many cooks in the kitchen), okay directing and passable acting. A disappointing sequel that had no place in the 21st century.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Independence Day: Resurgence trailer

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Movie review: Transformers: Age of Extinction + a look back to a whole franchise

Movie reviews

Hello everybody!
Welcome to yet another group of movie reviews. This time it is Transformers. As much as I dislike Michael Bay and his point of view, I still went to see the latest installment in his famous franchise. The reason for that – my father wanted to go to this movie so badly and I could not say no to him. I even binge-watched 3 previous movies in a couple of days in order to have a decent conversation with him about this film series. I guess I really love my dad. Also, Steven Spielberg is an executive producer of these movies so there has to be something good in them.

I started my Monday morning/afternoon (I woke up at 1 pm) with Transformers (2007). First of all, let’s start with Shia LaBeouf’s character – it was so awkward to watch him on screen. I am as fail in life as he is, but I just could not relate to him or the actions he did as well as the choices he made. And Megan Fox was in this motion picture for one reason – to look hot. Although, she did her job perfectly, it was not enough for my taste. I liked all the military stuff and Josh Duhamel’s performance. What is more, seeing all the computer hacking and engineering material was interesting, entertaining and exciting. Humor – the jokes made my chuckle and giggle a few times.
In the movies, don’t you always hate the fact that government does not know anything ever and they are making wrong decisions all the time? It is a movie cliché that bugs me the most.
All in all, despite the fact that these robots have no weight to them and that they are unrealistic as hell with their flying, jumping and etc., I still enjoyed this movie. However, I cannot forget the terrible Megan Fox’s acting, so the final rate is 3/5

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009).
Humor – stupid, but you chuckle because you just think: That is so bad. Laugh when you want to cry.
Crazy Sam is like the best part of his character development.
CGI looked faker than in the first movie.
Sam is just there to shout robot’s names because we cannot remember who is who ourselves.
About two hours into a movie all the characters became so annoying that I wanted this movie to end as soon as possible. The storyline was slow and complex; you had no idea what was happening half the time.
I liked the transformers when they were in their car form not when they turned into robots. That’s some sweet, sporty and expensive cars.
And don’t get me started on the runtime of this movie? This one is like 2.5 hours long. By the fifth or sixth installment it will probably be 5 hours long or something.
Rate 2/5

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011).
At least this one doesn’t have Megan Fox in it.
I love when movies connect with real live events (in this case with Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969) and take place in famous locations (Chernobyl).
Third movie into the franchise and I still do not fully understand Michael Bay’s humor.
I actually liked Rose Huntington-Whitley more than I liked Megan Fox. And it was just first Rose’s acting experience when Megan has been acting since 2001.
Simmons and Sam pair was actually fun this time. They were intelligent enough to work a lot of stuff out instead of, as in previous movies, going in circles.
This time around CGI effects were great. Huge improvement since the last film.
I really enjoyed the last act of the movie; the action was interesting and exciting. I just wish it wasn’t that long. I hope that someday they will realize that 2.5 hours is too much. 2 hours – perfect if you have interesting plotlines and well-developed characters to keep viewers engaged into the movie.
Rate 3.5/5

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
I have finally got around seeing this movie. Let me begin by saying that I went to this film with very low expectations and with these expectations in mind – it kinda delivered. The action was great – of course illogical but cool to look at. My dad really liked the film because he is a huge action fan.
The first hour and a half of the movie is really good, the premise is okay and storyline (if you can call it a storyline) is alright. But then the movie just keeps on going and going and going. About two hours in, I completely turned off my brain because everything was just messed up. I even had to ask my dad what was happening couple of times. Finally, a new cast. Improvement or failure? I guess improvement. Kinda. Sorta. Thank god, there is no Shia Lebeouf or his parents. They were annoying as s*it. I enjoyed Stanley Tucci’s performance as well as his character story arc. Mark Wahlberg also did a good job with what he was given.
During one part of the movie I was so confused who the villain was: dinobots; that alien who wanted Optimus or these manmade transformers with Megatron/Galvatron. In the end two of them happened to be bad guys. That boyfriend character reminded me of Chris Pratt. That actor’s real name is Jack Reynor – he was okay in the movie. That chick was my least favorite of them all. What is more, I liked seeing all the fast, sporty cars in the film – nice eye candy.
One last thing – is there a record for the amount of ads in Michael Bay movie? I felt like I was watching long (too long) advertisement for all kinds of stuff (starting with red bull and ending with lingerie). Only important message I could catch was the fact that you have to look for best in people. At least, Optimus Prime recommends you to do so. All in all, the movie was okay, I did not expect anything great so I enjoyed myself. Rate 3/5
Trailer: Age of Extinction – trailer #1
The sequel (5th movie) is planned to be released in 2016. The 6th movie is also in the works.

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