We earthlings are obsessed with finding signs of life on other planets. Why? Are we afraid of being alone in the cosmos? Do we hope that alien beings know things we don’t know and can solve our serious problems, like global warming or acne? In Daniel Espinosa’s Life, six astronauts on the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission discover a blob, and they can hardly contain their excitement.
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) with David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is the cowboy of this international group, donning a space suit to repair whatever goes wrong outside the station. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a physician who has been in space for so long – nearly 500 days – that he can’t imagine being back on earth. Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) becomes a father in space, talking his wife through the birthing process, then displaying to everyone a photo on his iPad of his new daughter. Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is the mission’s commander, while Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) brings a much-needed calm to the entire operation.
Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), a Brit and the lead scientist, is in charge of the discovery, isolated in the capsule’s lab as a safety precaution. The one-cell life form, placed in a petri dish, looks like those paramecia with cilia that undulate that we used to study in science. While Hugh’s upper body resembles that of an athlete, he’s paralyzed below the waist. Weightlessness in space allows him to move freely about the capsule, but he fantasizes that “Calvin,” the name given to the life form, might be a super stem cell, able to mend his injury.
Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds)
Healing humans, however, is not on Calvin’s agenda. In a short period of time, Calvin is killing off the astronauts in gruesome ways and rapidly growing into a monster with a brain. Calvin has no respect for Hollywood royalty, so A-list stars like Reynolds and Gyllenhaal soon find themselves in danger, along with the rest of the crew.
In D.C., the press screening was held in an appropriate place, the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater in the National Air and Space Museum. The 75-foot screen receives images from a “dual 4k laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system” providing audiences “with the sharpest, brightest, clearest, and most vivid digital images ever combined with a whole new level of immersive audio.” Translated that means this screening was an intense experience, for sure. The audience felt it was in that space capsule along with Reynolds and crew, scrambling to keep one step ahead of Calvin. (If you have the option, see the film at a theater offering IMAX.)
David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)
Life will undoubtedly be compared to Alien where Sigourney Weaver fought a much scarier opponent. Calvin is not nearly as frightening (although it will probably be some time before you can eat octopus again), but Espinosa certainly heightens the tension. The claustrophobic setting in the space capsule adds to the suspense. There are only so many places the astronauts can hide, and Calvin seems to have the ability to squeeze through small spaces with ease. It’s a no-win situation.
Connecting with the crew, learning more about each member, brings a personal element into the story. We root for the astronauts, not only because the alien life form is so evil, but also because anyone who signs on for such a challenging mission to benefit mankind deserves our support and respect. Space travelers are heroes, risking everything to explore a new frontier, knowing they may not come back alive.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink all those missions to Mars.
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Top photo: David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson)
There’s a Fellini-esque beginning to Tom Ford’s new film, Nocturnal Animals. As the opening credits roll, plus-sized women, nearly naked, dance, grimace, and perform, mimicking beauty contest winners and majorettes. When the camera pulls back, we’re in a gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who sits on the sidelines looking unimpressed and bored by her latest art installation. (The women are now lying facedown on platforms.)
The new exhibition is declared a success, but Susan is not in a celebratory mood. Her husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), didn’t show up for her opening, the couple’s relationship as cold as their steel and glass home. Susan suggests they try to reconnect by spending a weekend at the beach, but Hutton announces he must fly to New York to rescue a deal. Despite their opulent surroundings, they’re going broke. And, he’s having an affair.
Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal
Susan’s ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer, has sent her his novel, which he dedicated to her and titled Nocturnal Animals, a nod to her inability to sleep. Since she hasn’t spoken to him in 19 years, she’s both pleased and perplexed by his gesture. When she begins reading the book, however, the violent story that unfolds in the pages is unsettling and pushes her to revisit their relationship and how it ended.
Susan and Edward grew up together in West Texas and reconnect after they bump into each other in New York. Over lunch at a posh restaurant, Susan’s mother, Anne (a delicious Real Housewife turn by Laura Linney), discourages her from marrying Edward, a “weak” man who will never make enough money. Susan balks at her mother’s assessment but comes to the harsh realization that she’s more like her mother than she wants to admit. An artist, Susan shunned the struggling lifestyle of a creative for the lucrative business side of running a gallery. When Edward won’t give up trying to become a novelist, she leaves him. But marriage to Hutton proves to be even less satisfying.
The novel’s protagonist, Tony (played by Gyllenhaal), is driving to West Texas with his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), and daughter, India (Ellie Bamber). They are chased by some local ya-hoos and forced off the road. This is Deliverance on a lonely highway and Ford draws out the scene until it’s almost unbearable. Laura and India lash out against the men, while Tony tries to reason with them, a strategy that is ineffective and merely makes him look, yes, weak. Two of the men drive off with Tony’s family and he’s dumped in a deserted area. He finally finds his way to civilization and reports his missing wife and daughter. The local cop, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who takes on the case, bonds with Tony and the two work for two years to bring the men to justice.
Tom Ford’s first film, 2009’s A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a gay man in the 1960s who was unable to openly mourn his lover, received very positive reviews. Nocturnal Animals proves he’s no one shot wonder. He’s both a talented writer and director. And, of course, his fashion genius is evident in the film’s styling, from the outfits worn not only by Adams, but by one of the gallery workers played by Jena Malone, to sets, including the gallery and the Hutton home. Even the table decor, in several of the scenes, is eye-catching.
Adams’ character is multi-facted and the actress brilliantly transforms herself, depending upon where Susan is in her life story. Small touches make a difference. With bright red lipstick, her hair sleek and worn to the side, she’s the ice queen, tamping down her emotions. The younger Susan who fell in love with Edward, wears no makeup and is open and vulnerable. It’s telling that when she agrees to meet her ex-husband, she wipes off her red lipstick, ready to bring back the old Susan before she became too much like her mother.
Gyllenhaal delivers one of the best performances of his career. As Edward, he nails the sensitive, sincere small town boy who marries his first crush and can’t believe his good fortune. But when things go south, his efforts to make her stay come off as desperate. When we finally learn at the end of the film how Susan delivered the final blow that ended their marriage, we understand that perhaps the novel was not so much dedicated to her as aimed at her.
Nocturnal Animals opens nationwide November 18, 2016.
Photo Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features