Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective at generating tension and terror. And it helps that an adept cast is on board to give some weight to characters who are rather thinly written. The script, by Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, keeps everything lean and mean, concentrating on the scary stuff while ignoring any thematic depth or topicality. But director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) keeps it moving briskly.
It's set on board the International Space Station, where a specialised six-person crew is examining new soil samples from Mars. Science officer Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) finds alien life in the dirt, and watches in amazement as the cells grow and cooperate to create an interactive jellyfish-like creature, which schoolchildren on Earth name Calvin. Infectious disease doctors David and Miranda (Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson) are concerned that this life-form remains contained in the lab. So Captain Kat (Olga Dihovichnaya) and technicians Roy and Sho (Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada) set out to lock things down. But of course, this proves trickier than they thought it would be.
What follows is, unsurprisingly, a stalker slasher movie in which the crew members go down one by one. Calvin is a quick learner, and grows into a seriously menacing creature, complete with the silly addition of a kind of evil digital face. It also gets a few corny point of view camera angles. But mainly Espinosa holds his nerve, maintaining a believable sense of the science and the setting as things get increasingly out of control. Each terrifying set piece is followed by a brief moment of silence in which the characters (and audience) catch their breath. This also allows them to add one back story detail per person, in an attempt to stir up some emotional connection. But it doesn't really matter once the violent mayhem kicks into gear again.
Continue reading: Life Review
Middle-aged romances are rare on the big screen, so it's frustrating that this one is so badly compromised by a series of contrived plot points. One gimmick wasn't enough for director-cowriter Arie Posin, who continually twists and turns the events in ways that are both bizarre and melodramatic. Within this, Annette Bening and Ed Harris still manage to create intriguing characters, but it becomes increasingly difficult to care when the screenwriters clearly have trouble on their minds.
It opens as Nikki (Bening) is flooded with memories of her husband Garret (Harris), who died five years ago while they were vacationing in Mexico. Now that their daughter (Jess Weixler) is moving away from home in Los Angeles to attend college in Seattle, Nikki has time to think. Although she wants to remain friends and nothing more with her lusty widowed neighbour Roger (Robin Williams), an old friend of Garret's. Then Nikki meets a man who looks uncannily like Garret and begins stalking him. Tom (Harris again) is an art professor, and when Nikki gets up the nerve to talk to him, she knows she's going to a very odd place.
The film is like a variation on Vertigo, as Posin plays up the freaky doppelganger storyline to add a heightened sense of dangerous tension. But it's not so easy for the audience to accept such a set-up, when one honest conversation would solve everything. Instead, Nikki lies to everyone she knows, hides Tom from them and then lies to Tom as well. It's difficult to take a romance seriously when it has such a fraudulent foundation. Thankfully, Bening gives Nikki a fragility that makes her sympathetic, and her interaction with Harris bristles with unexpected connections because they are experiencing their blossoming relationship in such strikingly different ways. Both of them add layers of interest to their characters that make them engaging between the lines. Sadly, Williams' character never gets a chance to evolve.
Continue reading: The Face Of Love Review
In 1898, Albert (Close) works at an upscale Dublin hotel, and no one suspects that he's actually a woman. Quietly going about his work while saving to open a tobacco shop, Albert is unassuming and relentlessly polite. Then he's asked to share his room with visiting painter Hubert (McTeer), who learns his secret and reveals one of his own: he's a woman too. But Hubert has managed to have a normal married life. This inspires Albert to pursue the hotel maid Helen (Wasikowska), which is complicated by her lusty relationship with handyman Joe (Johnson).
Continue reading: Albert Nobbs Review
Fortunately writer-director Garcia is very careful to avoid wallowing in sentimentality.
Elizabeth (Watts) is a shark-like lawyer who easily seduces her new boss Paul (Jackson). She's had a difficult emotional life, and prefers to keep things under control, managing her friendships and relationships with icy distance.
Continue reading: Mother And Child Review
A chick-lit-flick, Book Club is poorly directed by Robin Swicord from her own inconsistent adaptation of Karen Jay Fowler's novel about five women (and one coerced man) who use Austen's novels as a means to escape their broken lives. They cover one book a month, and we roll our eyes as their individual problems mirror the quandaries found in Austen's chapters.
Continue reading: The Jane Austen Book Club Review
The nameless man is Morgan Freeman, playing a Hollywood actor who's researching a role as a lower-class service worker, so he's spending copious amounts of time in the barrio in L.A. At a rundown supermarket he encounters Scarlet (Paz Vega), who agrees to let him tag along with her on a day of mindless errands and fast food. They eat at Arby's, get the car washed, and watch an in-store demo of a "magic" towel at Target. (Freeman's expression when free mops are offered to the crowd is priceless.)
Continue reading: 10 Items Or Less Review
Nine Lives opens strong on Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), an imprisoned mother. Mopping up a floor, she's threatened by fellow prisoners, and harassed by a guard (Miguel Sandoval) who's convinced she can give him information. Everyone tells Sandra she's not going to make it, but you think she just might be able to, hunkering down turtle-like and just plowing through the rest of her sentence. But then her daughter visits, and the phone doesn't work, sending Sandra into a stunning explosion of rage, like a mother bear kept from her cub. It's a short, unrelentingly powerful story, and done by itself it would stand as a sublime little tragedy. The same goes for the final piece, in which Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning (hardly a better match could be imagined) visit a cemetery and talk with sublime ease about not much at all. But then comes the rest of the film in between.
Continue reading: Nine Lives Review
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