REVIEW: Life (2017)

8 07 2017

I fell in and out of sleep during Daniel Espinosa’s “Life,” a fact I feel comfortable sharing because it did not seem to have any bearing on my comprehension of the film. As it turns out, I could zone out for 10-15 minutes at a time and jump right back in feeling like I had not missed out on anything.

This is probably attributable to two factors: 1) I’ve seen “Alien,” the seminal space horror film from which “Life” cribs heavily, and 2) a line of expository dialogue recaps any major development, including big action sequences. As loud and technically complex as these set pieces are, I found myself drifting off during them with stunning ease.

“Life” (not to be confused with the James Dean quasi-biopic from 2015) takes a familiar premise – discovering life in space – and fails to take it anywhere new. “Calvin,” as their amoeba-like alien foe is named by a young schoolgirl back on earth, proves a dangerous foe for the astronauts on board the International Space Station. There’s no particular joy in watching him outsmart the crew because he adapts to surmount their weaknesses at light-speed. Not even a sardonic Ryan Reynolds or a laconic Jake Gyllenhaal can bring some – wait for it – LIFE to the screen. C

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REVIEW: The Girl on the Train

5 10 2016

Arguably the most famous close-ups in cinema history take place in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” the 1928 silent classic that elevated the expressively tight framed shot of facial contortions to the position of high art. Dreyer later said of the close-up, “Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring.”

It’s a blessing Dreyer did not live to see Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train,” a film that puts the close-up to shame through bludgeoning and excessive use. This specific shot is the movie’s only language to convey the internal agony of its three leading female characters. No need to waste time detailing the multitude of other techniques available at Taylor’s disposal, so let’s just leave it at the fact that the close-up is lazy shorthand for emotional intimacy.

The camera tries to substitute the reservoirs of feeling hidden by the icy women, each with their own secrets to bury and axes to grind. Their blank stares into the distance are meant to convey restraint or secrecy; instead, they convey nothing. One only needs to hold up the work of star Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train” alongside her performance in “Sicario” to see the difference. In the latter film, the most minuscule movement in Blunt’s face communicates a complex response to the ever-shifting environment around her character Kate Macer. Here, as the alcoholic voyeur Rachel Watson, Blunt is reduced to gasps and gazes that do little to illuminate her psychology.

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REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

30 07 2015

The “Mission: Impossible” series, now spanning nearly two decades with its five installments, somehow manages to sustain a childlike sense of adulation for its leading man.  Tom Cruise, perhaps the biggest movie star in the world when the franchise launched in 1996, has seen his ups and downs both personally and professionally in the years that followed.

But watching “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” it seems like his star has miraculously managed to lose no shine.  These movies see no parallels between the furious arm-pumping intensity of Tom Cruise’s movie run and the limber legs that propelled him to jump on Oprah’s couch.  Never does his stardom feel laced with irony or constrained by public perception.  The film treats Cruise like the greatest thing since sliced bread … or at least since Harrison Ford.

Cruise makes his first on-screen appearance by dashing into frame after a quick cut on his unexpected opening line, and it feels triumphant.  This is the cinema’s closest approximation to the kind entrance that Bernadette Peters or Idina Menzel can make when they walk on stage – which is to say, it mandates a pause to let the audience applaud simply on sight.  Cruise, working on assignment for writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Drew Pearce, so thoroughly owns his superstardom here that he gains the power to push “Going Clear” completely out of mind for two hours.

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