Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

Life

Life is another addition to the sci-fi, creature feature/suspense category. The film begins with with a team aboard the International Space Station waiting to receive a probe carrying sediment samples from Mars. The team soon discovers that the samples carry a dormant, single-cell life form, the first life to be discovered outside of Earth. After introducing the cell to different environments, the team’s lead scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) awakens the cell and begins to nurture it. After accidentally frightening the alien, known as Calvin, enters survival mode and death ensues.

Movie Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average) 

 

–Spoilers Ahead–

While Life‘s special effects were breathtaking and often horrifying, I believe the movie’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo behind the fantastic films Zombieland and Deadpool) missed an opportunity to delve deeper into the dark recesses of humanity. They touched upon certain aspects of our existence: humans feelings of hatred, procreation, love, and unquestioning duty to protect one another. They even rationalized Calvin’s quest to massacre the crew as a survival-of-the-fittest reaction. However, they failed to appropriately address the humans’ survival instinct, leaving a rich topic untouched.

The writers’ first mistake was failing to provide themselves with the right characters to correctly portray life and enter the complex waters of humans’ animalistic survival-instincts. The International Space Station’s crew consisted of a bunch of overly rational, “good people.” CDC doctor, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who lived and died by her adherence to the code of her employer, pilot-come-physician, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wanted to remain on the ISS and away from Earth, Sho Muraki (Hiroyuki Sananda) who’s wife just had a baby (that’s all we learn about Sho), the scientist Hugh Darry who loved other creatures (he was a good guy with an optimistic outlook despite being a paraplegic), the Russian who was kind, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Ryan Reynolds’ character Rory Adams who mostly acted like Ryan Reynolds. The writers created no gray characters, people who were willing to put their survival before their crew-mates. I realize there might be one or two “good” people on a crew of six, but lacking at least one selfish guy/gal, who is willing to sacrifice others to escape Calvin, is not only unrealistic, but boring.

Despite eventually realizing they needed to kill Calvin to survive, the crew always seemed to do so without any ethical conundrums. The closest the astronauts came to a dilemma occurred when Calvin first turned hostile in the lab. Despite some self-sacrifices by members of the crew to save the others, I never believed their acts of “love.” Their uniform kindness made them unbelievable as characters because humans are not so pure. We are sinful creatures at heart.

The writers should have created a greedy, evil, sinful character to match Calvin’s ferocity, to overturn all the “goodness” and “humanity” on the International Space Station. For a moment, I thought Sho was going to be that character, but the script never clarified if his attempt to reach the lifeboat was an act of selfishness or stupidity.

In sum,  Life failed to showcase humanity’s darkside, the side that executed the Holocaust, the side that commits terrorism on a daily basis, the side that massacred Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Instead, every crew member lived by their code, played nice, and died nice.

This is not to say the movie didn’t have its moments. In actuality, I enjoyed many parts of the film. I truly relished how Reese and Wernick overturned many of the monster genre’s conventions. For example, they didn’t allow the crew’s minority members to die first. Though the movie’s finish wasn’t unexpected, they managed to add a pleasant twist and resist the happy ending trope. Also, some of the crew’s deaths were quite imaginative, and I dug seeing Calvin’s motivation for murder (survival) grow .

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below:

Nocturnal Animals

Film score: 5 out of 5

Nocturnal Animals is a tale about art, reality, and regret. Susan (Amy Adams)  leads a lavish but hollow life with second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Spending the weekend alone and unable to sleep, Susan begins to reflect on her past choices as she falls ever deeper into Edward’s tale of tragedy, heartbreak and violence.

Tom Ford’s second film is a refreshing return to film noir, 1950’s Hollywood Thrillers and French New Wave Cinema, permeated by dashes of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Godard and other Cinematic masters.

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography conjures an eerie and isolating Los Angeles, distant and cold, covered in rain or fog. The city’s ambience is mirrored in the commercial art scene in which Susan now works. Plunged into a wide depth of field, Susan seems lost in her life, constantly detached from a large and empty world. These scenes are contrasted by Susan’s memories of her first husband Edward and the imagined world of his new novel. Both of these words are intimate and colourful, boasting a broader range of colour and smaller frames, allowing characters to truly inhabit both spaces.

Ford’s direction and his writing hold together a narrative that flits between the past, the present and the sub-narrative of Edward’s novel. It would have been easy for the film to become a jarring experience, due to the repeated and sudden switches between all three worlds.  Yet Ford manages to pull it off, the differing depths of field, changing colour palettes, and particularly changes in Susan’s wardrobe, merges all three parts into a cohesive whole.

Praise is deserved for Ford’s and McGarvey’s effective use of soviet montage theory in switching between the novel and present day, the camera repeatedly cuts from Edward’s novel to Susan’s reaction to the unfolding events. This cutting between the sadness of Edward’s novel to Susan’s emotions causes the fictional world and reality to bleed over. By the end of the film, it is hard to say whether the events of the film actually happened, or that the audience has witnessed a dream within Susan’s fatigued mind as she regrets her past.

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon all excel in their roles. It is warming to see that all three actors, who are major stars, are still willing to make films that do not fit the standard box office formula.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays Ray Marcus, the predatory villain of Edward’s novel who leads a small band of thugs. Taylor-Johnson’s depiction of Ray is excellent because the character is a pantomime villain, the audience is not allowed to understand Ray’s motivations or to empathize with him. Essentially Ray does what he does. It is a credit to Taylor-Johnson’s acting that this flaw in the character only appears some time after the film’s end. Throughout his appearance on the screen, Ray acts a centre of tension, he is completely unpredictable and sociopathic.

Ultimately I do not think that the film is a tale of indirect revenge. It seems to hold a deeper meaning about the sacrifices creative people undertake to succeed in their Art, and a commentary on the commercialization of Art in all its forms.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Anyone looking for a good film that they will ponder for days.

For the trailer, see below: