Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the gremlin-in-space drama “Life” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, the reboot of “Power Rangers,” “CHIPs” with Dax Shepard and Michael Pena and Kristen Stewart’s ghostly “Personal Shopper.”
Best selling romance writer Jude Deveraux declares that there are no new stories, just interesting, inventive ways of taking the journey with characters. “In romances,” she says, “the characters are going to fall in love with each other; you know that when you see the syrupy cover. It’s how they get there that’s the fun.”
The new monster-in-space flick “Life” would seem to prove this theory. It hits theatres on a mighty gust of déjà vu courtesy of “Alien” and “Gravity,” two movies that share its DNA and several plot points.
Headliners Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds are David Jordan, Miranda North and Roy Adams, three of six astronauts (alongside Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada) aboard an International Space Station. Their mission involves intercepting a shuttle containing a space specimen from Mars. In the beginning the microscopic alien, nicknamed Calvin, is benign, an inert collection of cells.
“We’re looking at the first proof of life on Mars,” says head honcho scientist Hugh Derry (Arlyon Bakare).
What could have been one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, however, changes when Derry feeds Calvin a glucose meal. The snack changes the organism from extraterrestrial to extra-terrible as it grows into some kind of jelloy-gremlin-Martian-hellbeast, gains intelligence and goes on a homicidal rampage. The astronauts says things like, “We can’t let that thing in here!” and “You don’t know what it can do!” as they fight, not only for their own safety but also the survival of Earth. “If it is between letting it here,” says Miranda, “or letting it down there, we let it in here!”
If the story sounds familiar it’s because it is, but is Ms. Deveraux right? Is the journey enough to keep the audience interested? For most of the running time the answer is yes.
Director Daniel Espinosa keeps things wound tight as he ramps up the danger and the stakes for the characters. Unlike most space operas, “Life” is an ensemble without a clear hero. The small cast are all equally important, and all equally expendable which adds an air of unpredictability that ratchets up the tension. As Calvin’s powers increase the movie’s powers decrease slightly, changing from finely tuned thriller to space caper.
Near the end, with just minutes to spare, characters (I will not tell you who, no spoilers here) have an extended moment of solace. A time of reflection and for a discussion about procedure and from that point on it’s a by-the-book Got-To-Kill-The-Space-Monster flick.
By the time the end credits roll, however, “Life” will have subverted your expectations enough to earn it an “all systems go.”
When Dane DeHaan was studying acting at UNC School of the Arts he had a poster of James Dean on his dorm wall.
DeHaan graduated in 2008 and has gone on to star in the HBO series In Treatment, and films like Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but one thing hasn’t changed.
“The poster is still on my wall,” he says on the line from his home. “I’m looking at it right now.”
In new film Life the twenty-nine-year-old actor plays Dean in 1955, just months away from the release of East of Eden. After a chance meeting a photographer played by Robert Pattinson becomes convinced the actor is the perfect subject. The two have an undeniable bond but Dean is hesitant, leery of exposing himself to the publicity machine.
DeHaan, who gained twenty-five pounds to play the screen icon, calls Dean one of his favourite actors.
“I was learning about acting and my acting teacher told us to go home and watch Marlon Brando and James Dean movies. I started watching them and he was just amazing. It was amazing to watch someone start the revolution of the kind of acting that most people do today but do it in such a beautiful way.
“It’s so exciting to watch those movies and see James Dean existing in this world with all these other over-the-top actors and just take them to school. The contrast was so jarring. Now you see a movie and there are obviously people who are better than others, but generally they’re trying to do the same kind of acting. In those movies that’s not really happening.”
DeHaan, who will soon be seen playing another real life character, Karl Rove in Young Americans, says “people think they know a lot about Dean but not many people really know much about him at all,” and hope Life will change that.
“Ultimately that was one of the reasons I took it on,” he says. “I realized that there are a lot of young people who don’t know who James Dean is, and that’s a sad fact. I would hope you would watch his movies first and then watch our movie or watch our movie and then watch his. I hope it opens a door for a lot of people to rediscover him not just as a persona but as an amazing talent.”
JAMES DEAN SIDEBAR:
Dane DeHaan joins a long list of people who have played Dean since the icon’s death in 1955
James Franco became a star, and won a Golden Globe, playing the rebellious actor in the TV biopic James Dean. Franco got so into character he went from non-smoker to a two-pack-a-day habit — in real life Dean smoked more than two packs of unfiltered Chesterfields a day — and learned to ride a motorcycle.
In 1976, Stephen McHattie won praise playing Dean in the TV movie James Dean written by William Bast, Dean’s best friend and roommate.
Also interesting is the video installation piece Rebel which features a female James Dean in the form of performer Nina Ljeti, and an Animaniacs episode featuring Slappy Squirrel giving Dean a class in method acting.
The story of “Life,” the new Robert Pattinson movie, begins with an assignment for LIFE magazine but the film isn’t about LIFE, it’s about the shared life of two very different men.
“Life” is told through the lens of Dennis Stock, a struggling photographer played by Pattinson. He’s a New Yorker slumming it in Los Angeles red carpets with dreams of returning to the Big Apple to do more important work.
James Dean (Dane DeHaan) is on the cusp of stardom, just months away from the release of “East of Eden.” After a chance meeting with Dean the photographer is convinced the actor is the perfect subject. The two have an undeniable bond but Dean is hesitant, leery of exposing himself to the publicity machine. “I lose myself in my roles,” he says. “I don’t want to lose myself in all this other stuff.”
The actor reluctantly agrees to allow Stock to photograph him for LIFE in the days leading up to the New York premier of “East of Eden.” When Stock’s early attempts to capture the actor’s “purity and awkwardness” don’t yield anything usable the two leave for Dean’s Indiana hometown. The resulting photos, coupled with a throwaway shot taken in Times Square, become a document of Dean’s last few moments of real life before he was overwhelmed by fame.
“Life” is a deliberate, thoughtful movie that details the heady days just before stardom consumed Dean. The story is uneventful, this is really a character study about two young men—in real life Stock was 26, Dean 23 years old—who find a way to define their relationship outside the parameters of photographer and subject. It’s about building trust, it’s about the connection between the press and the stars they cover and it’s about the bond between the photographer and the photographed. “Photography is a good way of saying, ‘I’ve been here, you’ve been here,’ says Stock.
It’s no surprise that “Life” was directed by Anton Corbijn, a photog-tiurned-filmmaker best known for taking iconic pictures of rock bands like U2 and Joy Division. He deeply understands the give-and-take necessary to capture interesting images and his experience bleeds into “Life’s” story.
It’s an interesting portrait of an exciting time. It’s too bad then, that there isn’t more to it. When Stock isn’t peering through his viewfinder the movie tends to fall flat.
DeHaan’s portrayal of Dean suggests the actor may have been an insufferable prat, self-absorbed and yet hiding behind a shroud of cigarette smoke. He mumbles his way through the first half of the film and doesn’t really transcend caricature until the story moves to his Indiana hometown. Its there Dean becomes a person and DeHaan seems to let go of the shackles of playing a legend. It is there the script allows him to be a person and not “the symbol of a new movement.” It is there we begin to understand why Dean is in no rush to let the public get to know him. Before that he is a ready-made rebel and not a particularly interesting one.
Pattinson continues his streak of taking on challenging roles that distance him from the heartthrob status that marked his “Twilight” years. As Stock he takes a backseat to DeHaan’s Dean, but makes a impression with a much less showier role.
In the end “Life” isn’t so much about Stock or Dean but about those moments captured on film that become legend.
If you have ever day dreamed about saying the right thing or having a snappy comeback to an insult, there’s a little bit of Walter Mitty in you.
From the original 1947 film starring Danny Kaye to the remake directed and featuring Ben Stiller, the name Walter Mitty has been synonymous with a certain kind of person, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs.”
In the new film Mitty (Stiller) is a 42-year-old behind-the-scenes “Life” employee who spaces out so much his new boss calls him Major Tom. He’s a hard working but invisible sixteen-year vet of the magazine’s photo department even his official title, negative asset manager, sounds Kafkaesque.
He’s secretly in love with co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) but while he dithers with an eHarmony representative (Paton Oswalt) regarding contacting her on-line (even though her office is just down the hall) the magazine is sold.
“This month’s issue will be the last before going on line,” says smarmy corporate lackey (Adam Scott) and soon, he adds, “some employees will be deemed ‘non vital.’”
It looks like Walter’s head might be on the corporate chopping block when he loses a negative from legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The picture is pegged to be the last “Life” cover ever, and if Walter can’t locate it, he will lose his job.
To find the picture he sets his daydreams aside and enacts “Life’s” motto, to see the world. His travels take him around the world and, at the same timer, closer to Cheryl’s heart.
Although Stiller appears in almost every frame of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” there’s no hint of the “There’s Something About Mary” Ben Stiller here at all. His take on Mitty is understated. The character’s moments get bigger and bigger as Walter begins to control his destiny, but Stiller never lets go of the core of what makes Walter, Walter. It’s his most subdued performance ever, and it looks good on him.
Wiig also displays her sweet side. There’s not a “little hand” (Dooneese from “S.N.L.’s” Lawrence Welk Show”) or bit of sketch comedy in the performance at all.
Both are quietly funny for the most part—a “Benjamin Button” daydream is the closest thing to punchline-setup in the movie. “My little heart is no bigger than a quarter,” says a mini-Walter, “but it’s filled more than Fort Knox.”
And, because this is a big Christmas release there is an unexpected superhero style action sequence where Walter Mitty tears up Manhattan in defense of his Stretch Armstrong doll, but for the most part it is sweet but occasionally twee.
The embossed “That is the Purpose of Life” slogan on an airport runway blurs the line between magic realism and silly sentimentalism but Stiller the director mostly subverts the mundane with the surreal as though he is following Walter’s own ABCs of everything you want in a man (or in this case director), to be Adventurous, Brave and Creative.