“Life”- (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: *** out of *****.

Life (2017) is, for better and for worse, exactly what I expected it to be. The photoplay, predictably, takes its every move from the Alien (1979) playbook. Correspondingly, the plot, which involves a space crew being systematically slaughtered by an ever-evolving extraterrestrial creature, is where this is most evident. Yet, it forgets many of the things that made Ridley Scott’s movie so legendary. This is its constant balance of the awe-inspiring and the ominous. But, what is most noticeably lacking is Scott’s well-developed, relatable characterizations. Moreover, Life is in too much of a rush to unveil its monstrous threat. The consequence of this is, besides ignoring the gradual and meticulous build-up of Scott’s classic, merely a forced attempt. This is at getting the audience to know its broadly etched leads in a wholly secondary and unoriginal fashion. Albeit, in the scant twenty-minutes of screen time allotted before the martian organism, Calvin, takes over. Such makes the endeavor ultimately feel heedless and generic. In turn, this science-fiction/ horror entry never gives its proven capable cast, helmed by Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan and Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (both of whom deliver satisfactory, serviceable performances), a chance to really make their characters a stand-out. Additionally, Ryan Reynolds again enacts another cloying, and unnecessarily comic, variation of his usual on-screen persona. This is in his one-note representation of Rory Adams. What also hurts matters is that the sets, though detailed, and low-tech effects are mediocre at best.

Yet, there is a dogged B-movie charm to the whole endeavor. This is heightened by the competent writing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and Daniel Espinosa’s same-said direction. Such qualities make these flaws easy to forgive. Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping cinematography, Jon Ekstrand’s score and Jenny Beavan’s costumes are also impressive. The same can be said of the sharply rendered sound department work as well as Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker’s seamless editing.

Espinosa’s endeavor is never terrifying. It also fails to sufficiently erect and maintain a genuine atmosphere of suspense. This is despite its numerous attempts. Furthermore, the majority of the scares are of a garden-variety ilk.  Yet, this Skydance Media, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and Columbia Pictures release is certainly an enjoyable, if ultimately minor, distraction.

The project undoubtedly benefits from concluding on one of the most intriguing and smirk-inducing bits in the whole production. Such is a nice send-off to a third act that is, like the movie itself, alternately amusing and absurd. A prime example of this is found in a near-climactic segment which involves Gyllenhaal tearfully reading Margaret Wise’s timeless children’s book Goodnight Moon (1947). It is clearly designed to evoke an emotive resonance with its audience. Instead it conjures laughter. As this sequence goes on, it also proves to be extraneous. Still, the overall result of this severely flawed affair is familiar, but fair, entertainment. Espinosa has constructed the type of clunky, imitative picture that is best described as “a guilty pleasure”. It is one perfectly suited for viewing on a rainy day.

103 minutes. Rated (R) for violence and language. Opened on March 24th, 2017.

“Everest” – (Movie Review)


Rating: **1/2 out of *****
By Andrew Buckner

Everest, from director Baltasar Kormakur (2012’s fair Contraband, 2013’s disappointing 2 Guns), is a film that is every bit as generic as its title suggests. It is structured far too visibly after standard issue big-budget natural disaster works. Franc Roddam’s K2, from 1991, and Frank Marshall’s Alive, from 1993, come instantly to mind. It’s evidence that we have all seen this done far better many times beforehand.

To its credit, there are potentially interesting characters in this fact based story. The problem is that William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s unappealing screenplay turns them all into plot-serving conventions. They become walking genre tropes who deliver heavy doses of personal backstory when the script deems it necessary to combat its numerous lulls. One extended scene, at about thirty-five minutes in, makes this especially obvious. Predictably, the screenplay summons the cast to expose their heroism and individual weaknesses at other standard intervals. This comes off as just as calculated. It also drains the movie of any potential emotional impact it wishes to attain.

This all could’ve been compelling material. Such would’ve been the case if the endeavor wasn’t so adamant about making everything so familiar. To be fair, most of the leads are generally easy to root for. Oddly, any trace of relatability to these individuals seems to be completely removed. It spends so much of the duration forcing us to care for those who populate the screen that it never really tries to make them unique and worthy of our concern. Because of this Everest never quite gets out of the shadow of this glaring failure. This immeasurably hinders the proceedings. It also makes its shortcomings all the more visible.

The always watchable Jake Gyllenhaal provides one of the few bright spots as Scott Fischer. Though he is likeable, and captures the attention in every bit he is in, he is used sparingly. Emily Watson, as Helen Wilton, and Josh Brolin, as Beck Weathers, turn in serviceable portrayals. They go through the motions with equally bland results. They are greatly held back by the writers treating these personalities like cinematic stock. This is depressing given the high-caliber talent these A-list individuals convey. Prior roles prove this. Still, they can only do so much with such scant material. The same can be said for Sam Worthington, as Guy Cotter, and Keira Knightly as Jan Hall.

Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is undoubtedly beautiful. Still, it is no better than what can be found in similar undertakings. This is especially disappointing given that the movie seems to be often abandon characterizations to floor audiences on this aspect alone. Such is true in the uneven and unfocused second hour. Like far too many attributes in this failed attempt at making the audience hold their breath in anticipation of what will occur next: this cinematic affair plays things far too safely.

The one hundred and twenty one minute depiction attempts to portray a disaster on Mount Everest. This occurs in March, 1996. Such an event finds two expedition groups fighting for their survival. Such transpires when a snow storm threatens the title mountain. Leaders of these groups are Rob Hall, Jason Clarke in a fair enough performance, and Fischer (Gyllenhaal). As the situation becomes increasingly worse one potentially nail-biting coincidence leads to another. All the while the individuals trapped in these horrific conditions band together in hopes that they will make it through this terrifying circumstance.

Much of the second half is where the exertion makes its most obvious attempts at generating suspense. This is where the composition succeeds. It also has strong stretches of promising build-up preluding these instances. As the risks become all the more daunting, Kormakur gives us tremendously designed and credible segments of peril. They are endearing and almost always intriguing because of their understated nature. Moreover, they never abandon the dramatic origins of the tale. If only more of these words could be applied to more of the feature’s technical aspects we might’ve truly had something special here.

The pace is choppy. Oddly enough, the piece seems hell-bent on constantly disemboweling viewer interest as soon as it begins to become genuinely compelling. Such is done almost singularly on its bizarre structure. This is after a first hour that is desperate, lumbering and made all the more faux and painful by its constantly forced and inane dialogue. Such incorporates the many failed attempts to establish the protagonists.

Kormakur dearly wants to make us care about those who populate the screen. This is certainly admirable. He wants us to impress upon ourselves the worry, fear, heartache and sorrow that accrues once these individuals’ lives are later endangered. Such could’ve put us in the leads’ shoes easily. It could’ve also added a potency that simply is not there. The underwhelming execution, even with its well-done buildup in check, is what sinks this honest exertion.

When the focus turns to full-on intensity, as is the case in the last forty-five minutes, it accumulates attention. Sadly, this is intercepted by hackneyed attempts to keep the personal stories going. These elements are so poorly handled throughout that they always distract us when the story seems to be building momentum. If this pivotal aspect functioned better this would’ve been far more engaging and satisfactory. What’s worse is that this all leads to a finale that is glaringly obvious from its commencement. This provokes a groan where should be exhilaration. Such can also be applied when summarizing the impression of sitting through the effort itself.

The score by composer Dario Marianelli is also highly generalized. This attribute is used subtly, smartly. It gives the sequences it is administered in a quietly hypnotic power. Moreover, it isn’t overused, as is the case of many similar pictures, to heighten emotional intensity by becoming overblown. Such works to its benefit.

Mick Audsley’s editing is proficient. The sound, as well as the visual and special effects, follow suit. There are many positive traits employed throughout. But, ultimately, there just simply aren’t enough of these stalwart details to overcome its obvious shortcomings.

It all creates a motion picture which is largely stale and often seems like it is on auto-pilot. Everest is confident that it will make your jaw-drop with the veneer of the claustrophobia inducing mountains. The same conviction is unveiled in the spectacularly sweeping glean and menace of the hazardous weather hammering down upon those trapped on the elevation. Furthermore, it is just as assured that it will make your heart frenziedly beat in your chest from its various cliffhanger scenarios. Because of this it blatantly appears to all but ignore the meat, the substance which makes an otherwise mediocre exercise genuinely worthwhile.