Saturday, June 24, 2017


Screenplay Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
* (one star)

Early on during the blatantly derivative would be science fiction/horror hybrid know as "Life," when the ravenous alien life form has only just begun to wreak havoc, one of the characters looks in terror filled amazement and utters, "How smart is this thing?" Apparently, smarter than all of you humans put together.

Dear readers, we have reached an other film where I have to announce to you that I see these things just so you do not have to and "Life," from Director Daniel Espinosa is precisely one of those very films. As I have previously stated, the film is derivative to the point of plagiarism yet the filmmakers never even bothered to steal the good stuff. It is indeed that bad. A joyless, often incoherent, journey into the darkness of space that we have all seen before and much better and is unfortunately a complete waste of the talents of the game cast, and aspects of the technical side of this very good looking but entirely empty headed and cold hearted production. See this at your own risk.

Such as it is with movies of this nature, "Life" is set upon an International Space Station withth epre-requisite skeleton crew of six members. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Senior Medical Officer, Dr. David Jordan, the war veteran whose distaste of human atrocities on Earth has led him to remain in space upon this very station for long over a year.  Joining him in the station's multi-cultural crew are quarantine officer Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), pilot and new Father Shu Murakami (Hiroyuki Sananda), biologist Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), space station commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and the wisecracking system engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds who clearly does not yet have Deadpool out of his system).

OK...after the space station captures a probe containing a soil sample that might contain proof positive evidence of life on Mars and further, Dr. Hugh Derry revives a dormant cell which rapidly grows into a multi-celled organism, which is soon dubbed with the name "Calvin." And much like the iconic comic strip character at his most devious, Calvin begins to grow in intelligence even more rapidly and in hostility even faster as it attacks Hugh before embarking upon its space station rampage, growing larger in size and ever shifting shapes and forms (Honestly, it is like a jellyfish? Or an octopus?  Audrey II from "Little Shop Of Horrors"?) as it engulfs the crew one-by-one and they not only try to survive but to stop it from reaching Earth.

You get the picture...

Daniel Espinosa "Life" is truly a pathetic title for a film that clearly carries no appreciation for its subject. For as good looking of a film as it is, and for that matter, one that is also as well acted as this one, it is also a painfully bland one, which carries absolutely no original ideas whatsoever but does house an international space station's worth of cliches and greatest hits from other better movies yet without any of the inventiveness, finesse, artistry and imagination that made those other films so memorable. Truth be told, if Ridley Scott and Alfonso Cuaron decided to file a joint plagiarism suit against the filmmakers and the studio, they would more than have a case.

Yes, "Life" is essentially a hybrid of Scott's "Alien" (1979) and Cuaron's "Gravity" (2013) with perhaps a taste of Barry Levinson's "Sphere" (1998) thrown into the mix but entirely without the creative brains to make it stand on its own two cinematic feet. It is yet another carnage filled space thriller in which scientists intelligent enough to work on a space station but stupid enough to open doors allowing murderous space creatures to roam free to devour them alive are rampant to the point of distressing unbelievability.

In some respects, "Life" felt to be like a less bloated but equally awful "Jurassic World" (2015), a film that exists to solely have stupid people do stupid things just to find themselves dismembered, thus blowing a conceptual hole into anything resembling true terror, awe, fright, or even a fight for survival. The fate is sealed once Dr. Hugh begins to become attached to little Calvin as a petri dish organism. You know from the jump that he'll be the first to find himself attacked (Yes, Dr. Hugh Derry is a Black man--and as Black people in horror films go, this man really takes a beating), and you know someone will try to save him, thus endangering the crew instantly and so on and so on and so on...

What is this eternally boring concept of every potential extraterrestrial organism existing for the purpose of annihilating humans? I mean--just as a genre unto itself, it can work and has worked many times before, sometimes as a brilliantly conceived and executed thriller like Scott's "Alien" or as a cultural critique/allegory like either of the versions of  Directors Don Seigel or Philip Kaufman's "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (1956 and 1978 respectively) or even Steven Spielberg's truly outstanding and horrifying remake of "War Of The Worlds" (2005).

But even as Ridley Scott continues to extend his "Alien" universe with some pretty strong prequels, even he understands that monstrous creatures destroying humans in and of itself is not enough. So wisely, he has decided to instill larger concepts about humanity, creation, existence, religion, faith, the dangers of artificial intelligence and the primal nature of survival to brutally nihilistic degrees. Yet, with "Life," Espinosa just wants to seemingly create a series of incoherently staged traps of no real excitement or consequence--especially with its bait and switch climactic sequence, which is just so poorly staged and only exists to twist the knife, so to speak.  .

And what is it with the cinematography anyway? I have no problems with Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's elegant, gliding camera work or even the beautifully displayed zero gravity special effects, which are as smooth as anything we have seen before, The issue is that, like the so-called thrills and action, the visual twists and turns through the space station are of no consequence or purpose, completely unlike what we experienced in Cuaron's "Gravity," which truly immersed you in space, giving you the awesome and terrifying feeling that you are right there alongside Sandra Bullock as she spirals through the endlessness of space. Nope, Espinosa simply plays all of the notes without understanding the music, making him look like a show-off but even so, it is still incomprehensible why we would be looking at two characters upside down when there is really no discernible need. 

Look...what more is there to say for a movie that is the equivalent of a White Castle slider. It's in. It's out. That's all. Daniel Espinosa's "Life" is a waste of talent, time and energy as it possesses a complete lack of anything resembling a desire to make a movie. In fact, this is the kind of film that hungry filmmakers should stone the screen as for all of the films that could have been make, this one was and for the love of Pete, why?

In space, no one may be able to hear you scream but here on Earth, you can certainly hear the yawns that are bound the exuded in the theaters and homes of those unfortunate enough to view this space junk.

Daniel Espinosa's "Life" is one of 2017's very worst films.

Monday, June 5, 2017

WONDERFUL!!!!: a review of "Wonder Woman"

Based upon the DC Comics series created by William Moulton Marston
Story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs
Screenplay Written by Allan Heinberg
Directed by Patty Jenkins
**** (four stars)

I can't believe it!! I just cannot believe it!!

Dear readers, I am going to go on record at this moment to tell you that I was not, in any way, looking forward to seeing this film. Now, before you jump to any conclusions, my reluctance has absolutely nothing to do with the character of Wonder Woman, a superhero fixture within my childhood and life long love of comic book warriors. My reluctance had absolutely, positively everything to do with the overall quality of the DC Cinematic universe as of late and especially when com pared to the Marvel Cinematic universe, which has beaten the DC films hands down over and again.

Essentially (and if you are regular visitors to this site, I apologize for any repetitiveness), Director Zack Snyder's inaugural features "Man Of Steel" (2013) and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice" (2016), were not disasters but they were indeed visually striking, intermittently involving would-be epics that were severely undone by incoherent storytelling messiness, a complete lack of joy within the CGI bombast and excruciating overlong climaxes where every single item except the movie theater itself was reduced to a mindless, heartless, soulless rubble (Michael Bay would be so proud!). Writer/Director David Ayer's inexcusable "Suicide Squad" (2016) was such an unmitigated disaster, that it very nearly made me want to swear off future DC films altogether.

And then, there was Gal Godot herself. Once again, my initial dismissal of Godot had nothing to do with an eternal allegiance with Lynda Carter who portrayed the iconic role of Wonder Woman in her television series from the 1970's. It was just that Godot made for quite a weak impression within her debut appearance in the role during "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice." Yes, she clearly looked the part. She obviously fit the costume. Her full entrance in the film (with that downright nifty theme music) was the movie's sole awesome moment. But, then, she began speaking and I was so put off by the woodenness of it all that I could not possibly imagine her carrying a full film on her own shoulders. Gal Godot just felt to be not up to the task at all, but here she was, cast in the role she would portray over a series of films and quite possibly, she just may have been unable to act!

For me, the bar was set at an extremely low level. But then, the initial reviews and their  high marks piqued my curiosity, allowing me to just give DC one more try. And dear readers, I am so, so thankful that I did because "Wonder Woman" is a flat out winner, a wonderful, wondrous feature that not on ly has given the DC characters their best film by a mile, but the finest one since Director Christopher Nolan's game changing "Dark Knight Trilogy" (2005/2008/2012) and even further, the film conjured up emotions of which I have not felt since Director Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" (1978) and Director Richard Lester's "Superman II" (1981).

Director Patty Jenkins, who helmed the brutal, brilliant "Monster" (2003) spotlighting a transformative performance by Charlize Theron, may have been a most unlikely choice to bring this figure to vivid, vibrant life. But, it turns out that she was the best choice without question, as she not only brought the DC Cinematic universe back from near death, she has outpaced and outclassed the generally more consistent Marvel films and ultimately, she has finally made one of the very best films of 2017!

While bookended by sequences set during present day Paris, Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" is an origin story primarily set near the conclusion of World War 1 but begins with our titular heroine as a free spirited child named Diana born on the island of Themyscira, home of a race of Amazonian warrior women created by the Gods of Mount Olympus with the purpose to protect mankind from Ares, the God of War.

The Amazons are led by Diana's Mother, Queen Hippolyta (the glorious Connie Nielsen) and her sister, the military General Antiope (Robin Wright), whose training sessions capture the intense interest and inspiration of young Diana (played by Lilly Aspel), much to the Queen's chagrin and worry. Reluctantly, the Queen allows Diana to be trained by Antiope in the ways of an Amazon warrior, lasting throughout her childhood, into her adolescence (played by Emily Carey) and finally, her young adulthood (now played by Gal Godot), all the while believing that she will one day be called upon to defeat Ares in battle utilizing the "Godkiller," a ceremonial sword.

The course of Diana's life is irrevocably altered when a plane miraculously crash lands off the coast of the island and carrying United States Army Air Service Captain and Allied spy Steve Trevor (a terrific Chris Pine), whom Diana rescues from drowning. Immediately thereafter, German planes, in pursuit of Steve approach the island, thus engaging in battle with the Amazons.

With the realization that "The Great War" is at hand, Diana, feeling her destiny to defeat Ares calling loudly, leaves Themyscira against the wishes and orders of the Queen to join Steve on a voyage to London. From here, the newly christened Diana Prince fully embarks upon a life-changing, world saving odyssey that will find her on the front lines of combat against the insidious General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), the mad scientist Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) and their exceedingly lethal mustard gas chemicals. But most importantly, her own inner journey towards a greater self-discovery and understanding of humanity itself.

Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" is a fully engrossing, enormously entertaining comic book epic that marries the worlds of mythology, classic Hollywood romantic comedy, espionage and war films, and the modern day superhero genre effortlessly and seamlessly. It is a beautifully filmed production in which the CGI special effects do not overwhelm but somehow carry a throwback charm to a time when superhero films were not so ponderous and self-consciously dour and dark. In fact, "Wonder Woman" possesses qualities that have been long missing from the comic book film genre from both DC and Marvel, and those qualities are an unabashed sense of fun and most especially, a healthy dose of old fashioned innocence that makes the experience feel as rich as the most fantastical dream.

Whatever trepidation and resistance I held towards Gal Godot during her initial film appearance have been marvelously erased with her full fledged starring performance. Godot is sensational, fashioning a sense of joy, awe and naivete that is completely infectious and engaging to regard as she allows us to become as amazed as Diana becomes throughout the film. Without hyperbole, Gal Godot's performance unearthed in me feelings I have not really had for films like this since Christopher Reeve made us all believe that a man could fly. Yes, she is that good and I am sorry that I ever doubted her!

One sequence in particular is the spectacular "No Man's Land" battle, during which Diana first appears in the complete and iconic Wonder Woman attire--bulletproof bracelets, the golden Lasso of Truth, plus shield and the Godkiller sword all at her disposal. Just watch Godot's face during this lengthy action set piece where she defeats legions of German soldiers and throws tanks and I guarantee you will be as equally enthralled as the character, who is just so amazed to discover all of the things that she can do and all in the service of the greater good. Her sense of astonishment is ours in turn, making for a film that scales heights over and again, completely on the shoulders and good will of Gal Godot whose star making performance is precisely what this iconic character demands and deserves.

Chris Pine is absolutely perfect as the heroically rogue-ish Steve Trevor, who engages with Godot with a dazzling light comedic touch that allows the twosome to elicit stupendous chemistry that accentuates Diana's "fish-out-of-water" comedy of manners, her richly paced romance with Steve and her growing understanding of the grey areas of the human condition, especially when it comes to the insanity of war.

In my recent reviews of Writer/Director James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2," I remarked upon the shallowness of that film's leading actor Chris Pratt, for whom big biceps and a glib nature counts as a full performance. Thankfully, Chris Pine in "Wonder Woman" completely escapes that trap and has discovered how to create a full and rich performance out of material that could be more than a little silly. Pine always finds the correct notes, as he is always in service of Gal Godot (for it is her movie), never trying to claim the spotlight from her but is always there at the right moment with the right delivery of a wry line of dialogue, a bemused expression at the majesty he is able to witness while also being a first rate conduit for Diana to experience the fullness of the human experience in humor, romance and a surprisingly effective level of pathos.

Gal Godot and Chris Pine are a perfect team and they are aided superbly by the film's expertly chosen supporting cast, which includes Steve Trevor's rag tag trio of sidekicks, all portrayed by Ewan Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock and Said Taghmaoui,  the masterful David Thewlis in a duplicitous role and even the charming Lucy Davis (from the original BBC version of "The Office") as Trevor's trusty secretary.

And even still, none of these performance could possibly have been allowed to shine so brightly if not working in the service of Allan Heinberg's witty, cleanly written screenplay and the pitch perfect direction of Patty Jenkins, who never has one superfluous moment and is armed with a determined and clear eyed filmmaking vision that affords her tremendous agility with transcending all of the superhero movie trappings, creating an experience that is deeply involving, honestly exciting and more than a little moving.

Trust me, dear readers. I have no need to ever sit through another origin story again yet in "Wonder Woman," everything felt fresh and new again. The film's extended climax, itself a comic book movie trapping as so many of these films, most infamously the DC brand, descend into a battering ram of numbing audio/visual cataclysm during which the world ends ten times over and yet nothing happens.

By establishing her characters so strongly, and giving us ample time to be invested in Diana's cause, mission and conflict so thoroughly, Patty Jenkins ensures that everything that occurs within the climax of "Wonder Woman" carries the proper weight, where (frankly) we give a damn because we are completely invested. For the first time in quite some time with this particular genre, I was not bored for one moment during the epic battles, which are engaged essentially on three fronts, where mythology and a more grounded reality collide powerfully and themes of sacrifice, honor and love are paramount--not how many explosions can we blast the movie screen with.

And at the center of it all is Diana Prince, her open-heartedness, her purity, her bravery and her unquestionably bad-ass warrior status is downright inspirational. I know how this film affected me. But I can only imagine what this film could possibly mean for young girls and hey, adult women in the audience who really have not had a film like this to call their own at any point during our glut of comic book films for nearly the past 10 least!!! Representation is everything and Patty Jenkins clearly took up the challenge of bringing this classic figure to such vibrant life with all of the fierce creativity and skill that, again, this character so richly deserves.

At the outset of this review, I proclaimed that I just could not believe that this film turned out so exceedingly well, especially with the low quality of what preceded it. I am hoping powerfully that as DC continues to build their cinematic universe, they look to what Jenkins has achieved and follow her template. With all due respect to Zack Snyder who is ensconced in a personal family tragedy, I just don't have high hopes for the already filmed "Justice League," which will arrive this November. But afterwards, the DC films brain trust need to study Jenkins' outstanding work carefully and proudly for after hitting such a high bar, they can't go back down in quality.  

Yes, I am still undergoing my strain and sense of superhero movie fatigue but with Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman," my love of the genre has been fully rejuvenated as she has delivered a film of such imagination, adventurousness and a most delightful jubilation that just makes the film fly through the clouds.

And in turn, we happily fly right along with it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017


And now, we're off to the races!!

Despite some excellence in the first few months of 2017, my movie going has been quite scant. Things seem to change this month as the Summer Movie Season is racing out of the gate and with several already audience and critically acclaimed films ready for wide release. I'm ready, dear readers. I'm ready!!!!!

1. The DC Cinematic Universe has lagged far behind the Marvel films creatively so I was really not anticipating anything new from this outfit. But, the near rave reviews for Director Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" now has me a bit excited to see if they will finally get one right and give the legendary Amazon the movie she has long deserved. 
2. Director Sofia Coppola and Kirsten  Dunst re-team for the third time with "The Beguiled," Coppola's remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel and for which she just won the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. 'Nuff said!
3. Yes, the one-sheet proclaims an August release date but Writer/Director Edgar Wright's "Baby Driver," his rock and roll car chase, crime, action extravaganza wowed the audiences at this year's SXSW Festival so enthusiastically, its release date was pushed upwards two months! 'Nuff said, part two!!!
4. Tom Cruise returns with a creature feature remake of "The Mummy," a concept that doesn't interest me that much but Cruise has been exceedingly consistent recently so I have to give it a shot.

So, with that, my plans and schemes for the month are set. I ask of you again to wish me well for June and I'll see you when the house lights go down!!