Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Life (dir by Daniel Espinosa)


I don’t care what Neil deGrasse Tyson says.  Space is dangerous.

Just judging by what I’ve seen in the movies, it might be a good idea for humanity to stay earthbound.  Seriously, it seems like every time a group of astronauts and scientists spend an extended period of time off of our planet, bad shit happens.  They either end up leaving behind someone on Mars or sometimes they crash land on a planet inhabited by vampires.  Occasionally, they end up with evil creatures bursting out of their chest and, if they’re not careful, they might even end up accidentally traveling all the way to Hell and back.

For that matter, it might be a good idea to also stop listening to Bill Nye.  I’ve seen enough movies to know better than to trust science.  Did you know that every time a revived corpse has gone on a killing spree, a scientist has been to blame?  In the movies, science always says it’s going to make the world a better place but ultimately, it just seems to make things worse.

Consider Life, for instance.

This science fiction film, which came out earlier this year and didn’t stick around in theaters for very long, opens with the crew of the International Space Station taking questions from a group of school children on Earth.  Everyone is really excited because a probe has been picked up evidence that there was once extraterrestrial life on Mars.  Starting from one cell, the scientists have managed to clone an alien organism.  (Or something like that.  Wisely, the movie doesn’t waste too much time on how all of this actually works.)  The school kids name the organism Calvin.

Isn’t that cute?

But here’s the thing.  Life is a science fiction/horror movie hybrid and, as a result, we already know that it was a mistake to bring that alien to life.  We know that almost everyone in that space station is going to die a terrible death.  It doesn’t matter that the scientists are played by people like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson  We know what is going to happen because we’ve all seen at least one movie in the Alien franchise.  We know what’s going to happen and, when things start to fall apart, the entire audience nods and says, “I told you so.”

That’s not to say that Life doesn’t work.   Life may be predictable but that’s actually a part of the film’s charm.  This is the type of film that you need to watch with a group of your loudest and snarkiest friends.  (I watched it with my sisters during the 4th of July weekend.  We all love Jake.  We all love Ryan.  Things got a bit out of hand.)  You don’t watch Life because you’re looking for an upbeat portrait of space exploration.  You watch Life so that you can yell, “No, don’t bring Calvin to life!  No, you idiot!  Don’t go into space!  Don’t lock yourself in the lab!  HAVEN’T ANY OF YOU SCIENTISTS EVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE BEFORE!?”

(Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of Life was seeing that even brilliant people will do stupid things when confronted by the unknown.)

That said, Life occasionally caught me off guard.  It’s not that I was shocked to see the members of the cast being picked off one by one by Calvin.  Instead, I was shocked by the film’s relentlessly dark and bleak vision.  For a film called Life, it’s ultimately all about death.  Just because a character is being played by a big star, that doesn’t mean they won’t end up with Calvin entering their body and graphically devouring them from the inside out.  Calvin was a truly frightening creation and director Daniel Espinosa does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia and clutter of the space station.  Even if they didn’t exactly break any new ground, Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick deserve a lot of credit for pursuing the film to its dark conclusion.  In space, they seem to suggest, there is no hope.

In conclusion, the main lesson of Life seems to be this: outer space is a terrible place and the worst thing that humanity can do is leave the planet.  Science is going to be the death of us.  Neil deGrasse Tyson has a lot to answer for.

Advertisements

Film Review: The Girl On The Train (dir by Tate Taylor)


the-girl-on-the-train

Before I get around to talking about The Girl On The Train, I’m going to tell you a little story about myself.

A few years ago, I used to make a point of riding the DART train.  (DART stands for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.  Large sections of Upstream Color were filmed on a DART train.)  Every weekend, instead of driving out to the Dallas Angelika or the Dallas Museum of Art and contributing to climate change or whatever it was that I was supposedly doing whenever I drove my car, I would hop on the train.  It was a little inconvenient but I was saving the world.  Or something.

It was about a 30 minute ride from my local DART Station to downtown Dallas and I have to admit that I actually used to enjoy it.  I would always look out the window and watch as Dallas passed by.  I got to know all of the buildings and houses on the route pretty well.  Thanks to riding the DART train, I discovered that there’s a house on Forrest Lane that’s been boarded up for five years and counting.  Near Spring Creek, there’s a two-story house that I wouldn’t mind owning.  It’s a two-story glass house and it has a really nice deck that looks out over the creek.  I would always look at those houses and, in my mind, I would make up lurid stories about the people who lived there.  For a while, it was great fun.

(Unfortunately, it eventually stopped being fun but that’s a story that will have to wait for whenever I finally get around to reviewing Ms. 45…)

As I watched The Girl On The Train, I started to think about those times on the DART train.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every story that I came up with while sitting on my DART train was a hundred times more interesting than anything that happened in The Girl On The Train.

Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson.  Rachel is an alcoholic.  She got divorced from Tom (Justin Theroux) after she discovered that Tom was having an affair with their real estate agent, Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson).  Tom and Anna are now married and have a baby.  Rachel, meanwhile, is a blackout drunk who has been unemployed for a year.  She spends her time on a train, drinking and ride back and forth between Connecticut and New York.

Every night, the train stops near Rachel’s old house.  Rachel looks out the window and she stares at her former home.  Occasionally, she sees Tom and Anna celebrating their new life.  Rachel also finds herself obsessing on the house next door.  Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives at the house and works as Tom and Anna’s nanny.  As Rachel discovers from looking out the train’s window, Megan is cheating on her husband with a mysterious, bearded man (Edgar Ramirez).

(Rachel has a really good view from her window seat.  Admittedly, I’m notoriously near-sighted so I might not be the best judge, but I could never actually see what was happening inside any of the houses that I stared at.  Rachel, however, must have super vision.  Maybe she was Supergirl before she turned into an alcoholic.  Who knows?)

One day, a drunk-off-her-ass Rachel forces her way off of the train and stumbles towards her former home.  She thinks that she sees Anna jogging and chases after her.  “Whore!” Rachel yells before passing out.  When Rachel regains consciousness, she can’t remember anything that happened.  But she has vague memories of being involved in some sort of struggle…

Eventually, Rachel learns that Megan is missing and presumed murdered.  Even worse, Rachel is the number one suspect.  The main detective (who is somewhat inevitably played by Allison Janney) suspects that Rachel mistook Megan for Anna.  It turns out that Rachel has a history of erratic behavior.  She even tried to kidnap Tom and Anna’s baby!  Seriously, lock Rachel up!

Trying to figure out what happened and clear her name, Rachel approaches Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans) and pretends to be a friend of Megan’s.  It turns out that Scott was an abusive husband.  Soon, he’s both confiding in Rachel and encouraging her to start drinking again.  Rachel starts spending more and more time with Scott and it becomes obvious that she’s trying to live the life that she once imagined that Megan and Scott had.  There’s an interesting subtext to both Rachel’s obsession with Megan and her attempt to start a new relationship with Scott but it’s never really explored.  Instead, it’s brought up and then abandoned a few scenes later.

In fact, as a film, The Girl On The Train never really explores anything.  (It only grudgingly hints at the complexity of the book on which it was based.)  As opposed to similar films like Gone Girl or Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, there’s not much depth or insight to The Girl On The Train.  I’ve read some reviews that have complained that The Girl On The Train is “melodramatic” or “trashy,” but, if that were the case, it would at least be a fun movie to watch.  This is one of those films that thinks it’s a lot deeper than it actually is.

The Girl On The Train was probably doomed as soon as Tate Taylor was hired to direct it.  Taylor previously directed both The Help and a musical biopic called Get On Up.  Tate Taylor is one of those directors who goes out of his way not to challenge his audience (The Help is one of the most positive films about systemic racism that I’ve ever seen) but The Girl On The Train needed a director with more of a subversive edge.  The Girl On The Train needed a director who would embrace the film’s pulpy sensibility as opposed to one who would go out of his way to sand away the story’s rough edges and create an inoffensive and bland product that would be perfect for mass consumption.

And then you’ve got the film’s cast, which is full of talented performers who all seem to be uniquely uninspired by the material that they have to work with.  Emily Blunt did such good work in Looper and Sicario so why is she so boring here?  Why does Justin Theroux seem to be eagerly awaiting the end of the movie?  Why are both Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson reduced to playing characters who feel as if they’ve sprung out of a misogynist’s daydream?  What is Edgar Ramirez even doing in the movie?  Or Lisa Kudrow?  Or Laura Prepon?  Why is it that every world-weary female authority figure has to be played by Allison Janney?  Why?  Why?  Why!?

So, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with The Girl On The Train.  I think I would have been more entertained if I had just hopped on the DART train and let my imagination do the rest of the work.

Mad Max: Fury Road dominates the 21st Annual Critics Choice Nominations!


MadMaxFuryRoad

It’s been a busy few days as far as the Oscar precursors are concerned.  Let’s see how quickly I can get us caught up.  First off, the 21st Annual Critics Choice nominations were announced yesterday and Mad Max: Fury Road totally dominated them!

And you know what that means — its time to say that the Critics Choice nominations are …. MAD ABOUT MAX!

Anyway, here are the nominations!

BEST PICTURE
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn

Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight

BEST ACTOR
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Johnny Depp – Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
Helen Mirren – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation
RJ Cyler – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Shameik Moore – Dope
Milo Parker – Mr. Holmes
Jacob Tremblay – Room

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
Trumbo

BEST DIRECTOR
Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro González Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen – Bridge of Spies
Alex Garland – Ex Machina
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – Inside Out
Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay – The Big Short
Nick Hornby – Brooklyn
Drew Goddard – The Martian
Emma Donoghue – Room
Aaron Sorkin – Steve Jobs

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol – Ed Lachman
The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Martian – Dariusz Wolski
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies – Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo
Brooklyn – François Séguin, Jennifer Oman and Louise Tremblay
Carol – Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
The Danish Girl – Eve Stewart, Michael Standish
Mad Max: Fury Road – Colin Gibson
The Martian – Arthur Max, Celia Bobak

BEST EDITING
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
The Revenant – Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Brooklyn – Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Carol – Sandy Powell
Cinderella – Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl – Paco Delgado
Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP
Black Mass
Carol
The Danish Girl
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Ex Machina
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
The Walk

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Furious 7
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Sicario

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Daniel Craig – Spectre
Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Tom Hardy – Mad Max: Fury Road
Chris Pratt – Jurassic World
Paul Rudd – Ant-Man

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Rebecca Ferguson – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Bryce Dallas Howard – Jurassic World
Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COMEDY
The Big Short
Inside Out
Joy
Sisters
Spy
Trainwreck

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Steve Carell – The Big Short
Robert De Niro – The Intern
Bill Hader – Trainwreck
Jason Statham – Spy

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Tina Fey – Sisters
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Melissa McCarthy – Spy
Amy Schumer – Trainwreck
Lily Tomlin – Grandma

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE
Ex Machina
It Follows
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Assassin
Goodnight Mommy
Mustang
The Second Mother
Son of Saul

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Amy
Cartel Land
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
He Named Me Malala
The Look of Silence
Where to Invade Next

BEST SONG
Fifty Shades of Grey – Love Me Like You Do
Furious 7 – See You Again
The Hunting Ground – Til It Happens To You
Love & Mercy – One Kind of Love
Spectre – Writing’s on the Wall
Youth – Simple Song #3

BEST SCORE
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
The Revenant – Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
Sicario – Johann Johannsson
Spotlight – Howard Shore

Hottie of the Day: Rebecca Ferguson


REBECCA FERGUSON

RebeccaFerguson03

It’s been awhile since we’ve featured a new beauty on the site. What better way to reintroduce a new one than with the current and hottest talent to grace the big-screen this summer: Rebecca Ferguson.

Rebecca Ferguson has been kicking ass and taking names through her role as mysterious rogue agent Ilsa Faust in the blockbuster summer hit, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Her character has made her the new go-to name for all upcoming female action-hero roles. Whether it’s to be cast as Captain Marvel in Marvel Studios’ future superhero film of the same name to the female lead in the upcoming Gambit live-action film over on Twentieth Fox. While she hasn’t been cast for either role it hasn’t stopped fans and film writers from wanting her to take the next step into the superhero film realm.

Yet, before her breakout role as Ilsa Faust opposite Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt on Rogue Nation, Ms. Ferguson had early success in soap opera roles over on Swedish TV before branching taking on the lead role in the BBC 10-part historical drama The White Queen.

For now, as fans and the world waits to see what’s next for Rebecca Ferguson, people should go out and see her light up the big-screen as Ilsa Faust on Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

RebeccaFerguson01

RebeccaFerguson02

RebeccaFerguson05

RebeccaFerguson06

RebeccaFerguson07

RebeccaFerguson08

RebeccaFerguson09

RebeccaFerguson04

PAST HOTTIES

Film Review: Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (dir by Christopher McQuarrie)


Rebecca FergusonEarlier tonight, Jeff and I saw Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and now I’m pretty sure that I’m developing huge girl crush on actress Rebecca Ferguson.

She plays Ilsa Faust, a former operative for M.I.6. who is now somehow involved with a shadowy terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.  And while Ilsa may only be a supporting character (because, after all, this is a Mission Impossible film and therefore, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is unquestionably the star), she dominates every scene that she’s in.  Whether she’s escape the scene of an attempted assassination while wearing a dress that is simply to die for or rescuing Ethan Hunt from certain death, Ilsa Faust is a woman who kicks ass, takes no prisoners, and looks great while she’s doing it.  As much as I love Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Ilsa Faust is my new espionage role model.

The movie attempts to suggest that there’s some sexual chemistry between Ilsa and Ethan.  Oddly enough, there’s not.  Tom Cruise looks good and he gives a confident and likable performance but, as a character, Ethan comes across as being almost asexual.  He seems to be attracted to only intrigue and danger.  And yet, that lack of authentic romantic chemistry actually works to the film’s advantage.  Ilsa is never reduced to merely being a love interest.  Instead, she’s an equal to Ethan throughout the entire film.

Of course, Ilsa has secrets of her own.  Everyone in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation has a secret.  The film opens with the IMF being disbanded and its operatives being absorbed into the CIA.  When the CIA director (Alec Baldwin, in full jerk mode) orders Ethan to stop investigating the Syndicate, Ethan goes underground and continues his activities in secret.  His allies (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and the great Simon Pegg) can only help him in secret.  The origins of the Syndicate turn out to be the biggest secret of all.  There are so many secrets in Rogue Nation that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of them all but, again, that works to the film’s advantage.  It keeps the audience off-balance.  You never know when someone’s going to suddenly pull out a gun and start shooting or rip off a mask and reveal themselves to be someone else.

Rogue Nation is an entertaining action film.  The stunts are spectacular and the set pieces are exciting and enjoyably over the top.  (There’s a scene where Ethan Hunt has to change out a security card while holding his breath underwater and I literally watched it through my fingers.)  I wouldn’t suggest trying to read too much into the film and yet, at the same time, Rogue Nation does capture the paranoid times in which we live. The film manages to both condemn the excesses of government while celebrating the toys that make those excesses possible.  The average film goer may not be able to do all of the things that Ilsa and Ethan can do but we all know what it’s like not to trust authority.

That’s what makes Solomon Lane, the main villain played by Sean Harris, such an interesting character.  I know that some reviewers have complained that Lane’s role was underwritten but I have to disagree.  Lane may not be as verbose as the typical spy movie villain but I appreciated the fact that he remained somewhat enigmatic up to the conclusion of the film.  He never made the mistake of over explaining his evil plan and accidentally giving the IMF team extra time in which to defeat him.  (Solomon Lane obviously learned his lesson from watching countless would-be world conquerors accidentally allow James Bond to get the better of them.)  Lane may be ruthless and evil but he’s also a revolutionary who is outraged by some of the same things that the rest of us are outraged by.  This brings a welcome hint of ambiguity to the film.

Though it never quite reaches the lunatic highs of either Kingsman or Furious Seven, Rogue Nation is still an enjoyable and effective action movie.  Undoubtedly, Ethan and the IMF team will return in another installment.  Here’s hoping that Ilsa Faust gets a spin-off of her very own.