Tag Archives: 2017 movies

Mars Attacks! A 60 Second Review of Life (2017)

“I know it’s not scientific, but I feel pure f**king hatred for that thing.”

From Daniel Espinosa, the director that brought us the underwhelming Safe House (five years ago!), comes Life: a horror, thriller, almost non-fiction-science-fiction movie that really nails its tone, despite dipping into the trope bag a bit too often. It’s clearly Espinosa’s best work so far (Swedish aside), but is it enough to put bums on seats at the cinema?

What I liked…

This is without doubt one of the most suspenseful, thrilling sci-fi films I have seen in years. It really helps to have great actors, but credit must be given to the way the film drags you through breathlessly leaving you little time to think, let alone compare its premise to Alien.

The casting is easily one of the highlights. A delightful blend of Reynold’s quipping, Hiroyuki Sanada frowning and Ariyon Bakare just acting the shit out of every scene. It is hard to know who the main character was and who would snuff it next. I quite liked that, especially as this also harked back to Ridley’s Scott’s classic.

Although the story doesn’t reach far beyond its premise, this kept the film contained and claustrophobic. Like an Outer Limits episode with good actors, the world below is kept at arm’s length, which makes the twists and turns that do happen that much more impactful. You won’t see everything coming either, you’re lying if you do.

Visually stunning. All the space shots look great, the alien looked good considering its digital basis and the sound design is not overbearing when it could have been. I am not alone in being reminded of Alien, which I think is a compliment considering how many movies have tried to replicate its visceral suspense and failed.

What I disliked…

Much of the criticism aimed at Life is that it heavily relies on tropes. This of course can annoy some people more than others, with doubters calling it a ‘clone’, and fans suggesting ‘homage’ is a more suitable word. Me, I would rather the film was good than original. If it’s both, even better. But considering it plays with the idea of what we might discover literally in the next couple of years, it is worth slapping on to a recognisable set-up that at least gets the blood pumping.

There are a few lines lines of unnecessary dialogue that would have been better served as silence. In typical  b-movie fashion, it would rather not lose the audience than assume its intelligence, which is a shame because it dumbs down the film at some crucial moments.

Some repetitive storytelling, one or two plot holes and a rather strange mix of character motivations.

Shapstik Verdict: There is a genuine edge of your seat feel about this film and there were a few squeaky bums in the cinema. Yes, it copies direct formulas, but then so did Pacific Rim, and that was awesome. I don’t think you need to deliver anything new to create the experience of being thrilled. Some films simply stick with you after leaving the theatre, this one did with me. It’s both familiar yet unpredictable and imperfect yet likeable. 7/10


Return of the hack? A 60 second review of Split (2017)

“The broken are the more evolved.”

Oh my god is he back? Are we returning to the same M Night that shook the film world with his creepy film style, chilling tone, gripping storytelling and clever use of colour palettes? Has he got over his vanity projects and is now concentrating on telling a compelling story? Or is this another The Village or The Happening?

One thing is for sure, some will say yes, it is another overrated film by the biggest hack of the 21st century. But it seems most are saying not so and that The Visit indicated a restrained, steadier version of the director that first attracted so many fans and inspired many film makers.

Personally? I think he is most definitely back.

What I liked…

James McAvoy is superb as Kevin, or Dennis, or Hedwig, or whichever one of his personalities takes “the light”. M Night’s trademark of leaving the camera focused on the listener, instead of the speaker, works really well and showcases McAvoy’s talents.

Sticking with casting, Anya Taylor-Joy is very convincing as Casey Cooke, one of the young girls kidnapped by McAvoy. I liked her in The Witch in 2016 and her story is an integral part of the movie by the end and she looks at ease in front of the camera. To paraphrase Palpatine: We’ll watch her career with great interest.

It is not just M Night’s directing skills that are back on par here, it is also the storytelling. He leaves enough unsaid and by the end has developed some intriguing characters. Not least of McAvoy’s broken mind.

The ending. Some people will undoubtedly throw their toys out the pram on this one, but on reflection it has made me love the movie even more and makes me want to go back and watch it again soon. This is a spoiler free-review of course but if you are a fan of M Night’s earlier work then I suggest you book your tickets and then bury your head in the sand for the next few days.

What I disliked…

There are elements of this film that take some brave writing and a determination to create the character necessary for the film. If this is focused on, some scenes can seem an unnecessary inclusion. But I do feel that M Night has developed this film over considerable time and deliberately completed the full character spectrum for his antagonist. But then he didn’t intend The Happening to end up a cult comedy and look how that worked out.

In typical post-Signs M Night fashion, there is a somewhat gimmicky and slightly arrogant tone to some of the film making. But I think it is also one of those M Night movies that can be either lauded or criticised, purely depending on your perspective. His incessant use of certain colours at first appears unnecessary, but for me felt more synergistic by the end.

He himself stars in one scene. Not Lady in the Water level of vanity, but you would think he would have side-stepped the appearance just to avoid the criticism.

Shapstik Verdict: There are not many film makers that have had their career trajectory analysed as much as  M. Night Shyamalan. If not only because of the uniqueness, freshness and stand out talent that he brought into cinema when he first arrived. Split feels much more carefully created than some of his clumsier efforts, more well designed and well acted. Is it as good as his early work? Maybe not. But it has definitely rekindled this film fan’s love for the man. 7/10