A spaceship visits a distant planet and discovers an alien life form. At first the crew are delighted, and they bring it aboard to study it in more detail. But as the creature begins to grow in size and cunning, they realise that they have invited something deadly into their midst. Pretty soon, they are involved in a desperate struggle for survival as the alien begins to pick them off, one-by-one…
Okay, who thought I was talking about Alien? There are startling similarities here and with Alien Covenant soon to hit big screens across the country, I can’t help feeling that Daniel Espinosa’s film, Life, has chosen a really unfortunate release date. Handsomely mounted though it is and blessed with considerable star power, it nonetheless can’t help but invite comparisons with its more famous cousin.
Here, the space ship in question is the International Space Station and the extraterrestrial life form (dubbed ‘Calvin’ by some well-meaning kids back on earth), has come via a soil sample from Mars. At first, it’s an innocuous scrap of fluff that responds weakly to heat and light. Science officer Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) quickly falls in love with the thing and starts conducting a few casual experiments on it. Before you can mutter ‘bad idea,’ it’s free from its incubation pod and is growing bigger and more vicious by the second. Captain Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) is faced with the daunting task of trying to contain it aboard, rather than let it escape to earth where it will wreak untold havoc. She’s aided and abetted by Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sonada and Olga Diovichnaya as the other members of the crew. Clearly no expense has been spared here. The space vistas are superbly rendered and the constant gravity-free environment is convincingly conveyed – apparently they used wire work rather than the infamous ‘vomit comet.’
I’ll be honest and say that there’s quite a lot to admire here (not least an unexpected switcheroo, that actually has me shouting out loud at the screen), – and Calvin is undoubtedly his own beast, with a particularly revolting method of seeing off his prey – but try as I might, I can’t rid myself of the notion that a salivating xenomorph might lurch out of the shadows at any moment. If the Alien franchise didn’t exist, I’d doubtless be upping the stars on this a couple of notches, but as it stands, this feels like an unfortunate rerun of a good idea. And no matter how polished it is, that’s never quite enough.
The trouble with Deadpool is, it wants to have its cake and eat it. ‘Look at me!’ it shouts, ‘I’m a superhero movie but I’m different to the rest!’ And maybe there’s a certain amount of truth in that statement, but when the ‘difference’ is a 15 certificate rather than the usual 12A and a series of knob gags directed straight to camera, well, that’s really not enough to justify our time in the cinema. I’ve had a sneaking admiration for Ryan Reynolds since the brilliant low budget indie, Buried, and he’s been the prime mover in getting this ultra-violent, potty-mouthed franchise onto the big screen, but really, I expected a bit more than this.
Reynolds plays former Special Forces Op, Wade Wilson, now reduced to beating up hoods to earn beer money. His world changes when he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and a love affair ensues, but it’s cut horribly short when Wade discovers he’s in the late stages of inoperable cancer. When he’s offered the chance of salvation, the opportunity to be turned into a ‘superhero’ he reluctantly goes along with it. But the process is a slow and painful one, administered by the psychopathic Ajax (Ed Skrein) and once transformed (and hideously scarred into the process) ‘Deadpool’ swears revenge on the man who has turned him into a superman.
I don’t want to be completely negative about the film. I enjoyed the opening slo-mo credits sequence, (if the rest of it had been as classy, this would be a kinder review) and just occasionally a few of the wisecracks actually made me smirk. But the 15 rating allows for quite horrible levels of carnage and when two characters from the X-Men franchise wander in trying to enlist Deadpool to their team, it starts to feel as formulaic as any of the other spandex-clad offerings out there. Fight sequences (and there are a lot of them) seem to go on for ages and watching indestructible people being repeatedly punched in the head really isn’t my idea of fun. For all it’s much-vaunted ‘originality,’ the film ultimately comes down to a man rescuing his girlfriend from the bad guys, a trope we’ve seen a gazillion times before.
I’d be the first to admit that this probably wasn’t aimed at the likes of me. Advance word is that Deadpool has wracked up impressive viewing figures in the USA and a sequel is inevitable. I for one, won’t be in any hurry to repeat the experience. This is a big, loud, slick slice of mayhem, with occasional signs that suggest it could have been so much more than that.
One of those real-life tales that would seem highly unlikely if presented as a piece of fiction, Woman In Gold tells the story of Maria Altmann, (Helen Mirren) an elderly Austrian-born woman living in California, who after the death of her sister contacts a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to ask his advice about a painting – a very famous one. Known to the world as The Woman In Gold, it was painted by Gustav Klimt, was commissioned by Maria’s father and is actually a portrait of her late Aunt. Looted by the Nazi’s during the Second World War, it now hangs in Vienna’s most famous art gallery and is widely regarded as Austria’s most quintessential piece of art. What chance would there be, wonders Maria, of having the painting returned to her?
The story looks at the long series of meetings, negotiations and court cases that the two leads have to go through in order to obtain justice. Mirren is on great form as the cantankerous Maria, (though it must be said that for a supposed octogenarian, Mirren looks distinctly healthy), while Reynolds, always an underrated actor, makes an adept transformation to the quietly-spoken but determined lawyer, prepared to take an entire country to the supreme court. The Altmann’s tragic history is shown through a series of assured flashbacks with Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany looking surprisingly convincing as a younger version of Helen Mirren.
In a story like this it would be all too easy to slip into schmaltz, but Director Simon Curtis manages to keep everything reined in enough to tug at the heartstrings without losing control; and this is, after all, an emotional story of cruelty, dispossession and greed, that will make all but the stoniest individuals shed tears. A decent and absorbing film.