After proving to be more than capable in a number of different genres, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa delves into challenging sci-fi horror territory with Life. The story follows the studies of scientists aboard the International Space Station, on an explorative mission to find life on Mars. Led by Russian commander Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), the crew consists of Dr David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), pilot Rory (Ryan Reynolds), quarantine officer Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson), engineer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada) and biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare). The team are initially delighted by their groundbreaking discovery of a living organism, which is later named Calvin, but are soon put in danger when it rapidly grows outwith their control.
Fashion icon Tom Ford enjoyed his first foray into filmmaking back in 2009 with A Single Man which was met with critical acclaim and awards glory. He’s back for his second feature with neo-noir thriller Nocturnal Animals, based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The plot centres around luxuriously successful LA art dealer Susan (Amy Adams) who, despite her extreme wealth, is unhappy with what and who she has become. When she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), she is led to reflect upon her life. Her ex’s bloody tale of violent revenge, which gives the movie its title, plays out as a film within a film, haunting her memories and dredging up her dark past.
In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The survival statistics for those that have tried to emulate the magnificent feat since are terrifying. The frightening figures lead us into adventure disaster epic simply titled ‘Everest’, directed by Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur. The film is based on the 1996 expedition when two groups attempted the climb, one led by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and the other by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). When both teams face tough terrain on the ascent, they join forces and club together their resources. Can they topple the almighty odds to make it to the top?
Shot in spectacular 3D, this is one of the few times I’d recommend adding an extra dimension to your cinema experience. The camera work here from Salvatore Totino adds great depth to the landscapes which are literally breathtaking. The narrative creates a respected villain out of the mountain itself and doesn’t over dramatise the situations in the way most disaster genre movies would. Without spoiling the plot, character exits are deft and in fact more shocking by the underplayed approach, life slipping away from bodies slowly and quietly. Where the film falls down slightly is the lack of emotioneering behind the back stories of the multitude of characters. We only see and hear about glimpses of their pasts and their reasons for wanting to achieve such a goal, quoting the famous George Mallory’s ‘because it’s there’ line.
There is a huge star-studded cast list but because of the location of the film it can at times be difficult to tell them apart, all dressed up in big coats and covered in snow! The tense atmosphere and drama of Everest itself engulfs the acting but there are a couple of good turns that deserve a mention. The central performance from Jason Clarke is the most memorable, with a multi-layered quality to it given the fact that Hall was a coach to fellow climbers yet was at risk himself. Gyllenhaal plays the care-free adrenaline junkie Fischer with his usual flair and likeability, bringing about welcome light relief when events get rather heavy by whooping hysterically and delivering dialogue such as ‘it’s about the attitude, not the altitude’. From the small selection of those that aren’t up the mountain, Emily Watson gives the most emotionally charged portrayal as Helen, the base camp manager, acting as a go between from the mountaineers and their loved ones.
‘Everest’ is definitely a movie worth taking time out to see on the big screen, as its strong point is the powerful visuals. Kormákur excels in this field and manages to create an aesthetic that is both brutally realistic and larger than life simultaneously. The storytelling is morbid but can be very hard-hitting and successfully dodges the sentimental genre tropes but doesn’t explore the psyches of Hall, Fischer and the rest of the group enough. Because of this lack of development where the core climbers are concerned, more questions are raised than answered.
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‘If it bleeds, it leads’ is the heartless crime journalism motto in noir thriller, ‘Nightcrawler’ written and directed by first-timer Dan Gilroy. The film is centred wholly around entrepreneurial nutcase Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who roams the neon lit streets of Los Angeles in search of a money-making scheme. When he witnesses a terrible highway accident and a man capturing the events on camera, he sees an opportunity to capitalise on, deciding to have a go himself, selling his grisly footage to the highest bidding news station. This dark slice of cinema is fascinating throughout, exploring the moral philosophies of freelance reporting through the eyes of and focussed through the lens of a driven, but extremely intelligent lunatic, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
The narrative ticks along at an alarming pace as Bloom quickly builds his reputation, hiring Rick as his hard-working assistant and forming a working relationship with Nina, a news channel director. Lou continuously pushes his assets to the absolute limits, always wanting more sales, more success and consequently more money. The gloomy style of the cinematography along with an unsettling score combine to create a creepy cloud that descends on LA after dark and is the suitable environment for the complex protagonist to go about his business. By day, he is calculating and clever, delivering motivational nuggets to justify his motives. When pestering a potential employer, he argues that ‘if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket’. By night, he is equally direct and eloquent in his methods of madness but possesses a cruel, dangerous streak.
Jake Gyllenhaal, who also produced the project, describes his latest character as a human interpretation of a coyote, lurking in the shadows of the metropolis. He lost twenty pounds in weight for the role and his gaunt look and inhumane glare give Lou Bloom a chilling exterior to match the mercilessness behind the glazy eyes. Aspects of other cinematic anti-heroes can be pulled from the intricacies of Lou Bloom; he has the social awkwardness of Travis Bickle and the driving prowess of Gosling’s unnamed stunt driver, as well as the psychotic tendencies of Patrick Bateman. These combined attributes though make Bloom memorable in his own right, and Gyllenhaal is scarily good in his portrayal. Excellent support comes from British star Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s loyal aide who goes against his ethical scruples in his desperation for steady employment.
‘Nightcrawler’ continues an interesting trend of major acting talent turning to darker, indie material in order to get more in-depth satisfying roles, though Gyllenhaal now finds himself on the wrong side of the moral compass, following his previous authoritative parts. Following Bloom from one crime scene to the next, we as an audience become almost complicit in his wicked ways, laughing at his words of warped wisdom and absorbed in his murky profession. While discussing his line of work with a police officer, he gleefully states ‘I like to think that if you see me, you’re having the worst day of your life’. I would never want to come across his kind face to face but on-screen, his company is well worth your time.
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