Movie Review: “Life”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare
Director
Daniel Espinosa

Daniel Espinosa’s “Life” is a lean, mean studio B-movie that knows how to move. Right from the start, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t waste time. The sci-fi thriller’s simplicity and brevity is one of its many strengths, in addition to some compelling performances, a genuinely nasty alien and a third act that finishes strong.

Calvin is the name given to the film’s antagonist, a deadly little organism (and the first sign of life discovered on Mars) that grows larger and more lethal over the course of the story. The alien wreaks havoc aboard an International Space Station inhabited by a team of scientists, including Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Katerine Golovkin (Olga Dihovichnaya). They’re all given personalities at an extremely efficient pace, so once the number of crew members begins to decline, it doesn’t feel like candy being tossed aside. The stakes are monumental in “Life,” and you can definitely feel it as the crew floats around in zero gravity trying to figure out how to kill this thing before it finds a way of reaching (and destroying) Earth.

“Life” is a pretty straightforward genre flick, but it isn’t thin. In fact, the simplicity that Reese and Wernick have achieved with movies like “Zombieland,” “Deadpool” and now “Life” is exhilarating in this day and age of bloated blockbusters. There’s not a single ounce of filler in these three films. They pick up and start running immediately, which Espinosa communicates in a lengthy opening take that is sometimes dazzling and sometimes a little obvious and strained. It’s the only scene where you’re aware of the filmmaker’s hand, but the sequence still has its moments. With the rest of the movie, Espinosa serves up an increasingly tense experience.

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Movie Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

Starring
Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director
Bill Condon

As sweet and lovely as Disney’s 1991 animated film “Beauty and the Beast” is, the story has some, um, inconsistencies. Belle somehow manages to get an injured, beaten Beast up on a horse to bring back to the castle. There is a painting of an adult Prince that could not possibly have been painted. And how is it that the local village has no knowledge of an enchanted castle just a short ride away? All of these issues, thankfully, are addressed in the live-action remake of the film, and the emotional stakes are raised quite a bit in the finale (though not in the manner that you might think). The production design is gorgeous, Belle’s yellow dress is as stunning as Cinderella’s blue dress in the 2015 remake of that film, and Emma Watson is an inspired choice to play Belle, and is quite the singer as well.

The movie takes a while to find its rhythm, though. The three biggest musical numbers in the movie’s first half bite off more than they can chew, as if Disney had told director Bill Condon, “Just ask yourself: what would Baz Luhrmann do? And then ask us if we think Baz would do that, and we’ll tell you whether or not you’re right.” Condon captures the excessiveness of a Luhrmann number but not its energy, and that is a very important distinction. The movie’s second half, though, is much better. The relationship between Belle and the Beast comes into focus, and one small cameo makes a world of difference in the end.

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Movie Review: “T2 Trainspotting”

Starring
Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald
Director
Danny Boyle

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the fact that “T2 Trainspotting” is one of the most unnecessary sequels the world has ever seen. Instead, let’s discuss my pitch for what that sequel would look like:

Sick Boy and Begbie find Renton and spend the entire film beating him to death. Roll credits.

As it turns out, that is not far off from the reality. “T2 Trainspotting” is the culmination of a lifetime of bad decisions and the influence that they have on a person even when they know it’s time to make better ones. If “Trainspotting” was equal parts tragic and upbeat, “T2” is mostly pathetic, capped by a long-overdue dose of karma. That it still manages to be entertaining despite looking, sounding and feeling exactly like the original film is to the great credit of director Danny Boyle, with slightly less credit to screenwriter John Hodge for reasons which will soon become apparent.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to his childhood home of Edinburgh for the first time after stealing £16,000 from his junkie friends 20 years earlier. Life for those friends, sadly, is more of the same. His former bestie Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) is working extortion schemes with the help of pretty Bulgarian Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), while Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner), having recently lost his job, is attempting suicide via overdose when Mark visits and subsequently saves him, much to Spud’s chagrin.

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Movie Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring
Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann
Director
Jordan Vogt-Roberts

After the disappointment of 2014’s “Godzilla,” my expectations were pretty low going into “Kong: Skull Island” despite the talented cast and effective marketing campaign, but boy does it feel good to be proven wrong. Combining blockbuster filmmaking with the B-movie monster genre, “Kong: Skull Island” is Hollywood commercialism at its finest – a visually stunning adventure film that boasts great special effects, exciting set pieces and lots of humor. Though Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake was a decent but bloated take on the classic King Kong story, “Kong: Skull Island” is better in almost every way. This is what a modern day King Kong movie should look like, even one that has a foot firmly planted in the past.

The year is 1973, and with the Vietnam War drawing to a close, a pair of scientists (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) from Monarch – the mysterious organization that unearthed Godzilla in the 2014 reboot – convinces the U.S. government to fund an expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific under the guise of a geological mapping mission. Joining them on their journey is former British SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a military escort led by the tightly-wound Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who jumps at the chance to extend his deployment, even if the rest of his squadron (including Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham and Thomas Mann) don’t quite share his enthusiasm.

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Movie Review: “Logan”

Starring
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
Director
James Mangold

Hugh Jackman‘s final performance as Logan is every bit as emotional as it should be. Director James Mangold saved the best for last with this uncompromising, brutal and heartfelt story of a fallen hero stumbling to get back up again. Rarely are comic book movies as contemplative and as character-driven as “Logan.”

Logan is no superhero in this movie. At the start of Mangold’s thriller/road film, which he co-wrote with Scott Frank and Michael Green, he’s a drunk who can barely walk straight. This 100-plus-year-old man gave up on life when he thought it gave up on him. The year is 2029 and Logan is driving a limo to get by, taking care of an ill Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose mind is slowly deteriorating, and his roommate Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a tracker and one of the last mutants remaining. Logan’s days as Wolverine and a member of the X-Men are long gone.

This Logan isn’t interested in helping anybody but himself, Charles and Caliban, so when a desperate woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) offers him good money to drive a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota, he doesn’t exactly jump at the chance to protect her. In fact, it takes a long time for Logan to even want to help the kid, who, as Charles points out, is very much like his clawed mutant friend. When a team of cybernetically-enhanced enforcers led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) – the head of security for a mysterious government program called Transigen and a big fan of Wolverine – come to retrieve Laura at Logan and Charles’ home, a personal and exciting chase that’s heavy on heartache and bloodshed ensues.

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