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Life • Wilson

March 30, 2017

Life (**) R

At the recent press screening for the new sci-fi horror opus Life, the same question kept rolling around in my head as the images unfolded in front of me and that thought was ‘What were they thinking?’ By they, I mean the studio suits and people in high finance who opted to put up the dough for this film, a pointless exercise in been there and done that. The very premise of the film­—an alien life form is found in space and begins killing members of the space crew who made the discovery—was old news thirty eight years ago when Ridley Scott’s Alien lifted the same premise from the 1958 film, It: The Terror From Beyond Space and ran with it. Now, after multiple films in the Alien franchise, not to mention the countless rip offs and such, it’s a complete and utter mystery why anyone would think that a film such as Life could make any lasting contribution to the murderous alien in space genre.

The only possible answer might be that perhaps Sony, the film’s distributor, is hoping that the fanboys who support these sorts of things will turn out in droves.

Jake Gyllenhaal  in Life

That’s about the only hope this one has of making any financial gains at the box office as everyone else is likely to shrug and move on in regards to the film.

In the film’s early scenes, we find out that upon inspection, a microscopic organism of some sort­—dubbed Calvin by the six astronauts on board the International Space Station who discovered it—has been detected in Martian soil samples.

It looks like a starfish and when it is stimulated by electricity, among other things, it slowly but surely comes to life. After feasting on one of the astronauts it doesn’t take long for the rest of the crew to figure out that this thing is out for one thing only and that happens to be devouring the rest of the crew of the space station.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Ariyon Bakare do the best they in their respective roles as the astronauts but their characters are so underwritten that it’s hard to care at all about anything except who is going to be killed next. On that note I will only say that one character’s demise comes so early in the film that it is a bit of surprise, mainly due to the actor’s billing in the credits being so prominent that you kind of expect them to be around a bit longer.

There is a twist ending that is kind of fun even if it is a bit easy to predict. Still, the overall effect just feels like reheated leftovers that audiences have been exposed to too many times. The irony can’t be discounted when a film entitled Life turns out be so lifeless. 

Wilson (** ½) R

If you allow it to happen, often times great insight into the state of one’s life can be gleaned by what you may or may not respond to in a particular movie. At least that’s been my experience. It certainly proved to be true with Wilson, a film that is only going to be appreciated by those who can relate to its lead character, a man-child and a walking contradiction in that he’s a misanthrope who also craves human connection. One doesn’t have to be exactly aligned with Wilson’s sensibilities to identify with him. However, it goes without saying that anyone who’s felt the pangs of middle aged angst, particularly those of a certain white male persuasion, can certainly feel where he’s coming from in his inability to relate to the rest of the world in the 21st century.   

Wilson is based on a graphic novel by the great Daniel Clowes and the author also did the scripting chores. Nobody articulates male angst as precisely as Clowes which is evidenced in his graphic novels, Mr. Wonderful and Ghost World, the latter of which was adapted into a superb 2001 film co scripted by Clowes and directed by Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa). One of the complaints made by the few detractors of the film version of his graphic novel Ghost World was that it’s hard to care for a lead character that seemingly has no interest in being liked. Those who dislike Wilson can certainly lodge that complaint against this film and it’s a point that couldn’t be argued. 

The character of Wilson is embodied by Woody Harrelson and in the film’s opening scenes his irascibility and general inability to relate to his fellow man is quickly established.

Woody Harrelson & Laura Dern in Wilson

Wilson lives alone in a ratty apartment above a restaurant with his beloved dog, and laments the failure of his marriage that transpired nearly two decades earlier. He owns no modern technology to speak of and can’t understand why so many people seem to have no interest in maintaining lasting human connections and instead opt to spend their time ‘tapping their fingers on a box.’   

Wilson’s life takes a turn that he didn’t see coming when he unexpectedly reconnects with his ex wife (Laura Dern). Soon thereafter he also discovers a daughter that he never knew existed, sending him further into uncharted territory. This is where the film stumbles a bit as Wilson suddenly transforms from being a curmudgeon to embracing his role as would be father. It’s a character arc that never quite rings true.

Thankfully, Wilson reverts back to his curmudgeonly old self before the film is over through a series of plot machinations that I won’t get into here.  

Wilson is the kind of film that’s certainly hard to recommend but it’s also one that I must honestly say I admired at times. For mainstream audiences it will be a tough sell but for those of a certain mindset it will hit more often than it misses. 

At press time, both movies are playing in Charlotte, and Life is playing in Hickory at the Carmike.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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