“Life” is an entertaining science fiction thriller albeit not an original one
Review of Daniel Espinosa’s newest science fiction film that borrows a lot from “Alien”
By Carter Bagley
I’ve been slacking a lot on reviewing things on this site and I contemplated whether or not to review this film since it came out a while ago. I ultimately decided that by the end of the year I’d rather have it in my review catalog than not so here I am writing this. Daniel Espinosa has managed to make a career in the past several years of making entertaining if not forgettable thrillers or action flicks and it seems he may have done it again but not entirely. There are many interesting things happening in “Life” to make it memorable enough to mention to a friend but sadly it fails to make you think about what you see which is something I think it was going for. The good parts of the movie are really good, the performances are great and the entire cast is actually phenomenal. Jake Gyllenhaal does the best with what his character is given and Rebecca Ferguson impresses again a female lead after her breakout in the “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”. The two standouts for me however are Ariyon Bakare and Hiroyuki Sanada. Two names that I was not familiar with before going into the film but they had some of the best character development of any of the characters. Bakare plays Hugh Derry, a scientist who is the one that is tasked with taking care and keeping the specimen they find in a stable environment. Things quickly go awry when the specimen begins to grow and become intelligent. The crew quickly realize that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they brought this creature aboard the ship. “Life” takes some obvious ideas from “Alien” which is definitely not a bad thing but it does make it difficult for the film to stand on its own. To be fair the script is pretty clever in how the characters find ways to stop the alien from getting stronger. “Life” manages to be very entertaining and gripping but by the end of it you kind of saw it coming and it doesn’t stick with you. At times it’s very predictable and some of the dialogue and actions made by the characters seem a little unbelievable. Overall, if you are a science fiction fan than it will probably be a fun time but otherwise there’s no real rush to go out and check it out.
“The Deer Hunter” is an intense, and sometimes beautiful psychological drama
Review of Michael Camino’s masterpiece about the effects of the Vietnam war on three best friends from Pennsylvania
By Carter Bagley
Michael Cimino is a filmmaker we could talk about for hours and his downward spiral is one that may go down in history. No matter what happened to him however no one could ever take away the masterpiece that is “The Deer Hunter” from him. When it was released in 1978 there was drama surrounding it including over-budgeting and Cimino being an extreme perfectionist and a huge pain in the ass to the studio, in the end though he no doubt delivered a perfect psychologically horrific war film and among the first to really go in depth on the Vietnam war. The film follows three best friends from a blue collar Pennsylvania town Mike (Robert De Niro), Steve (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) and they all have very distinct personalities. Mike is the confident, wise and quiet leader who keeps his senses better than his friends while Steve is sweet and loving and about to get married and Nick is reserved, thoughtful and charming. The film is really broken into three story structures where part 1 takes place prewar where they’re preparing for deployment and Steve gets married to his pregnant fiancee and Mike, Nick and other friends go on a final hunting trip before the three friends are sent into Vietnam. Part 2 is the time they spend in Vietnam and it features many horrifying scenes that scared and unnerved me more than most horror films I’ve seen in my entire life. Then part 3 focuses on the trio post-war and the effects it has on them and their close family and friends. Cimino does an indescribably fantastic job at directing this masterpiece and he puts major focus of scenes that seem to not be important and later prove to be vital to the development to the story and the characters. Robert De Niro gives one of his greatest performances I’ve ever seen from him right up there with “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “Cape Fear”. His portrayal of Mike is heartwarming and brutally raw all at the same time and you feel the relationships between all the characters to be 100% genuine. Meryl Streep is fantastic in a supportive role as Linda who’s the sweetheart of Nick and close friends with Mike and Steve. The imagery is impeccable and sticks with you and it’s almost indescribable how the scenes in this film whether they’re horrific or beautiful last with you long after the film ends. It runs a little over three hours but it doesn’t feel that way at all and I was sucked in by the amazing story, fantastic performances, and excellent use of landscape and scenery. The great character actor John Cazale is great as the trio’s unpredictable and impulsive hometown friend Stosh. He died soon after filming and before the film even released which is an awful tragedy as he was only in 5 films (“The Godfather”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Conversation”, “The Godfather Part II” and “The Deer Hunter”) and all of them were incredible. The scene everybody remembers from this film is when Mike, Nick, and Steve are forced to play Russian roulette against each other after being captured by Vietnamese soldiers. It’s a memorable and perfectly executed scene that shows the horrors of war first hand. Along with all those kind of scenes there’s the beautiful ones like when Mike is up in the mountains hunting the deer or when they’re all at Steve’s extravagant wedding. I think John Savage and Christopher Walken are overlooked a lot for their roles in this film which is too bad because everyone in this film is perfectly cast and perfects their role. “The Deer Hunter” is an intense, and sometimes beautiful psychological drama that is truly one of the most classic films of the 70’s and it’s one of most well-made films I’ve seen in a very long time.
An interesting premise and some good frightening moments don’t make “Blair Witch” succeed completely
Review of the new sequel to the influential found-footage classic “The Blair Witch Project”
By Carter Bagley
The 1999 modern horror classic “The Blair Witch Project” revolutionized the found-footage style of filmmaking, which is now one of the most popular techniques in low-budget films. Whether that’s for better or worse is up to you because most found-footage movies are just cheap, lazy, and unoriginal like the “Paranormal Activity” series, “Unfriended” or “The Last Exorcism” but for every once in a while we get a film like “Chronicle”, “Creep” or “V/H/S/2” that’s surprisingly good. Either way the original “Blair Witch Project” film is a good horror film for what it is, maybe a tad overrated but still good nonetheless. So when just a few months ago Adam Wingard announced that his latest film “The Woods” was actually secretly a Blair Witch sequel titled “Blair Witch” I was mildly interested. Wingard is an intriguing filmmaker who made the 2014 thriller “The Guest” which I really loved quite a bit when I watched it and he already directed the entertaining house invasion thriller “You’re Next”. This new film follows James who is the younger brother of Heather from the original film who disappeared and hasn’t been seen since she left for the Black Hills Woods in Burkittsville, Maryland 20 years ago and the footage was found later which was the film “The Blair Witch Project”. She went missing when James was 4 and now he’s in his early 20’s and his friend Lisa who’s doing a film school project decides to help him investigate it by going into the woods themselves. James’ childhood friend Peter and his girlfriend Ashley choose to tagalong also as they meet two Burkittsville residents who posted footage online that James believes could be from Heather. The residents join them on their journey into the woods helping guide the group and before long weird stuff begins to happen and when they soon find themselves unable to escape the woods that’s when the real terror sets in. It’s an interesting enough premise and it works for the first act of the film. You somewhat care for the characters, some more than others, and you understand their perspective and they don’t seem completely incompetent like most horror characters. The problem with this film though is that in a lot of ways it’s the same movie as the original until the film’s final 15-20 minutes or so. Somewhere later in the second half and beginning of the third I got bored as it seemed a bit repetitive. There were definitely some unique moments thrown in there though, specifically one involving a voodoo figure. It does seem that the filmmakers really cared about making a good horror film, and they did a decent job for the most part, it just feels like the screenwriters didn’t know what to do with the film at certain parts and so it comes off as filler. The ending though elevates the film quite a bit however as it brings in original concepts and well-paced thrills. You even get a few genuinely frightening images and moments in the witch’s extremely creepy house. If you enjoy the original or like these kinds of horror films there’s a good chance you’ll get a few kicks out of this latest installment. If you’re into the franchise’s lore then you’ll definitely enjoy it as it introduces some interesting concepts. If you’ve never seen the original film though I advise you watch that one instead as overall it’s a more effective and consistent film although “Blair Witch” might have a few better moments.