Sunday, March 26, 2017


Year: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Plot: Six crew onboard the ISS receives a Mars space probe containing soil samples from the red planet, where they discover a life form which fascinates them at first, but suddenly turn hostile and threatens their lives.

Review: I've heard many people say Life is ripping off Ridley Scott's Alien. Well, here I am to say, that's not entirely true. The whole man vs alien in spaceship thing, perhaps yes. But Life feels much more contained and less ambitious than Alien.

On the ISS, six people; engineer Rory, CDC doctor Miranda, medical doctor David, biologist Hugh, systems engineer Sho and station commander Kat, receive a space probe containing soil samples from Mars. In those samples, Hugh discovers a unique life form unlike anything mankind has ever seen. Then suddenly, the alien, named Calvin by students on Earth, turns hostile and attacks the crew, forcing them to fight for their survival.

The truth is, Life has more in common with Gravity than Alien, especially in terms of look and set design. It may be a monster movie in space, but compared to Alien, it feels more rooted in science, if that makes sense. Calvin the alien, in particular, takes a continuously changing form that increases in size and kinda looks like a giant squid. The methods that the crew use to fight Calvin, as well as their survival steps are based in science and technology, and there are a handful of scenes, both interior and exterior, that reminds me more of Gravity, and even The Martian, than Alien.

The cast perform mostly well overall. Jake Gyllenhaal is the best among them, playing David as a loner who would much rather be on the ISS than back on Earth. Ryan Reynolds provides some brief humor as Rory while Rebecca Ferguson is okay as Miranda. Hiroyuki Sanada gets the token role of character with family back home as Sho, while Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya turn in respectable performances as Hugh and Kat respectively, adding some variety whenever possible.

However, while director Daniel Espinosa manages to create some tension whenever Calvin makes a move on the crew, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script fails to elevate the crew's emotional connection to the audience. In comparison to say, Danny Boyle's Sunshine, Life's crew have poorly developed backgrounds, save for Gyllenhaal, who manages to elevate David above the others thanks to his talent. Ferguson's Miranda is simply a rule follower while Bakare's crippled Hugh and Sanada's newly minted father Sho are cliched victims for the alien. Reynolds' Rory and Dihovichnaya's Kat are slightly more interesting but don't get enough screen time. Espinosa does give time to the cast to get more personal in between attacks, but they don't really work. In fact, they only slow the film down when it should be adding layers to the film.

The other thing that bothered me is how Calvin seems impervious to whatever plan the crew hatches to fight it. I know most movie monsters are hard to kill, but making it invincible and then use science to explain the reasons makes it somewhat senseless and paper thin. It felt too convenient to me in the end.

But I will give credit to Espinosa and company for giving Life an unconventional ending, which isn't entirely unpredictable, but much better than the common finish most films of the same type go for.

To sum it up, Life is far from perfect, but it provides some solid entertainment overall. It's not as smart as it intends to be, but it's more than decent for a sci-fi horror flick. (7/10)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, John Ortiz

Plot: A team of scientists and soldiers explore an uncharted island in the Pacific in 1973, only to encounter a vast array of dangerous gigantic creatures, including a 104-foot ape known as Kong.

Review: The recent Godzilla remake was underwhelming to say the least, and movie fans would rightfully hope that Kong: Skull Island, the next film about gigantic monsters, would be better. I'm happy to report that it certainly is.

After a brief prologue that takes place in 1944, we jump to 1973 where the Vietnam War is at an end. Scientists from Monarch, a top secret research company, gain permission from the government to explore Skull Island, an uncharted island in the Pacific. Along for the ride are a group of soldiers just leaving Vietnam, a former SAS soldier acting as tracker, and an anti-war photographer. Once there however, they run into a gigantic ape that wastes no time in attacking and destroying their helicopters, forcing the survivors to travel through rough and dangerous terrain to make it to their pick up point. Along the way, they have to try to not get killed, and they run into someone who knows about the big ape and the island.

Relatively new director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wisely keeps the pace brisk here. Peter Jackson's King Kong was the last time Kong appeared on the silver screen, and though it was a magnificent film, it was a very long experience. So thankfully, Vogt-Roberts makes it easy on the viewers by keeping things swift. After all, this is more of a sci-fi fantasy and not the love story that Jackson's film is known for.

As an adventure flick, it certainly hits all the right notes. There is rarely a dull moment in the film as Vogt-Roberts throws one threat after another at our heroes, from giant spiders to killer pterodactyls and "skullcrawlers", which you would be familiar with if you've watched the trailers. And of course, there is Kong, who begins as a threat but as we all know, is the real hero of the story. Thanks to a very game cast and spectacular visual effects from Industrial Light & Magic, the film is pretty entertaining from start to finish.

The ensemble cast is pretty impressive, though only a select few really stand out. Tom Hiddleston's Conrad, the tracker and Samuel L Jackson's Col. Packard, leader of the soldiers, get the most airtime, and both actors are good in their roles. Jackson's Packard is like Ahab in Moby Dick, trying to kill Kong whom he views as an enemy. Brie Larson, playing Weaver the photographer, gets her chance to shine too, mostly with Kong. The best role however goes to John C Reilly. He plays Marlow, a pilot who crashed on the island 28 years prior, and becomes the group's guide. Partly eccentric and partly wise, he is the unsung hero of the story, and Reilly is truly the most memorable thing about the film other than Kong. 

The rest of the cast, including Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell and Thomas Mann provide some good support but not enough time on screen unfortunately. Even the legendary John Goodman as head scientist Randa was sadly wasted when he could have really taken the role to another level if given the chance. Lastly, credit goes to Terry Notary who provides the movements for Kong; he had previously done so for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

At the end of the day though, Kong: Skull Island, despite the great effects and outstanding cast, is essentially a B movie. The theme of man versus nature is a good idea here, but one gets the feeling that the film only scratched the surface of that idea. With a bit more time, that idea can be further explored.

But if you're looking for a thrilling adventure flick this month, you can't go wrong with Skull Island. Do wait till the credits finish rolling for one last scene. (8/10)

Saturday, March 04, 2017


Year: 2017
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elizabeth Rodriguez

Plot: In the near future, Logan, now a tired man looking after an aging and weak Charles Xavier, finds himself in charge of protecting an 11 year old mutant girl from her former captors.

Review: Wolverine's long 17 year journey through film comes to an end at last here, and it is bloody well done, pun not intended.

It's the future, and the X-Men no longer exist. All that's left is Logan, no longer the Wolverine, who works as a limo driver and looks after Charles Xavier, now 90 years old and prone to seizures, which for a telepath, causes everyone around him to suffer tremendously. One day, a Mexican woman asks him for help to get to North Dakota; she and an 11 year old girl are on the run from dangerous people. Logan reluctantly agrees since he needs the money, but things go south pretty quick when the bad people show up, all armed to the teeth and they have no issues about killing. Here's where we discover that the girl is special. She is a mutant, who is related to Logan, and is pretty much like him too.

If you're a comic reader, you would know that the girl is Laura Kinney aka X-23, Logan's clone daughter. She is played here by Dafne Keen, who is simply superb in portraying a feral child with claws. Watching her take down men twice her size is a lot of fun, and Keen's performance as a younger, more animalistic version of Wolverine is remarkable. She is yet another child actor bound for greatness.

Hugh Jackman's ninth and final appearance as Logan may be his best one ever. With his healing factor failing him, Logan is dying a slow death, and has become more vulnerable and resentful than ever. Essentially he's still a good man, which is why he can't turn his back on Laura when she needs him. Jackman is intense and emotionally tired as Logan, and he couldn't have done a better job. Patrick Stewart, also making a final appearance as Charles Xavier, puts in a splendid performance here as a near senile man, prone to dangerous seizures. Gone is the man who taught mutants at his school, and only a shell of a professor remains. Stewart's performance is so tragic, and yet it still carries hope. I think Jackman and Stewart ought to be seriously considered for Oscars by the Academy here.

Boyd Holbrook and Richard E Grant are solid as the film's villains, particularly the former as Donald Pierce (whom comic fans will recognize as leader of the Reavers). Also worth mentioning are Stephen Merchant as Caliban, a mutant who helps Logan take care of Xavier, and ER's Eriq La Salle as a farmer who gives refuge to Logan during his journey.

Director James Mangold, who had directed The Wolverine, pulls out all the stops in ensuring Logan gets a memorable farewell. Most obvious here is the R rating, which makes this X-Men film the most violent one you'll ever see, and no cartoonish Deadpool type violence here. This is as bloody and brutal as it gets, as people get clawed, stabbed and decapitated. So don't bring your kids to this one, folks. But more importantly, Mangold, drawing some inspiration from the Old Man Logan comic arc, presents a story that is touching and sad at the same time. It's definitely not the average X-Men type film, or even an average comic book film for that matter. Logan is like a modern day western, and Mangold even uses Johnny Cash's music and excerpts from Shane to make it work. Despite all the brutality that takes place on screen, it's really a beautiful film.

The only issue I have with this film is the editing, as it felt a bit long at times. But honestly, Logan is a phenomenal film overall. As Wolverine has always been my favorite character, it made me feel sad to see him go, but I think he couldn't have gone out a better way than this. Recommended. (9/10) 


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