Life wasn’t what I expected, but I still got a kick out of it

Life is tough: one moment you’re hanging round with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, the next thing you know you’re being constricted by a tentacle monster and deprived of oxygen

Trailers are an ever changing thing, they’ve gained a reputation in modern times of giving away too much of the story. They so often follow the same beats set to the same musical cues and can mislead the public into thinking a film is something it isn’t.  This is not the case with Life, a sci-fi survival thriller marketed as a clone of Alien which plays out like a clone of Alien. I saw two trailers for Life in the cinema, one which was made it look like the most generic sci fi movie ever made and another which was simply a clip taken directly from near the beginning of the film. Never before have I seen two trailers for the same film with such a chasm in quality. Having seen the generic trailer first, my expectations for Life were set extremely low.

Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. The premise behind Life is simple; Astronauts aboard the International Space Station discover microbial alien life, the organism grows until it is big enough to kill people, and then it kills people. It’s a classic horror movie set aboard the ISS, nothing special about the story, it’s how the story is told that makes the difference.

Plot-wise the film is a pretty standard outing, it progresses in a slow pace to begin with, focusing on the science and daily work of the astronauts. It allows for basic character building before going gung-ho on the violent rampage. The characters are likeable enough for you to not want them to die, but not sympathetic enough to not warrant a cheer when they are slaughtered by a tentacle monster.

Visually it is all very bland, the space station is as cookie cutter as sci fi design can get and the cinematography is all very forgettable. The first sequence of the movie is one long shot, reminiscent of Gravity, the camera bobs and weaves in the zero-g, it seems to promise that the film will be trying to have fun with the camera. However, it amounts to nothing other than a few upside-down shots and canted angles.

The overuse of CG is rife in this film, the monster is constantly shown front and centre and in full light, which highlights its seamless skin textures and unrealistic contact with the environment. Its forgivable and not something I take gripe with because the monster is for the most part well designed and creepy. But it’s hard to shake the thought that this film is likely going to look like dated trash in five years.

An issue that Life faces is that there are no real rules to dictate the behaviour of the monster, it is clearly stated in Alien and Aliens that the Xenomorphs are afraid of fire, whereas the monster in this film is pretty much invincible until the plot dictates that it shouldn’t be. But my biggest problem is that there is little to no mystique surrounding the monster, in Alien the Xenomorph stays interesting because it creeps in the shadows, it is shown piece by piece throughout the movie. A claw here, a tail there, just out of frame, this breeds a level of tension and anticipation that Life fails to reach. It doesn’t make you crave the next sighting because you have seen it all before, every inch. You’ve literally seen it under a microscope, the film attempts to keep it interesting by changing the design of the monster as it grows, but it amounts to nothing more than more CGI tendrils and the eventual addition of a pretty laughable face.

The only thing to look forward to in Life is how the next kill is going to happen. Luckily the film manages to pull out some fantastically sadistic monster movie murders. Some well-paced, terrifying ideas are put into practice and realised in memorable ways, it saves the movie even if it does run out of ideas towards the end.

Recommendation

I could keep discussing this film in its minutia but in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. The film is average Hollywood movie making on almost every level, it’s cinematography is uninteresting but competent, its lighting is balanced, clear and non-dramatic. The soundtrack is an assault of WAAHs and its characters are passable. What the film does offer is a crisp, clean version of the dirty, dingy Alien, chopped and changed enough to still feel new and different. The story takes some exciting turns and ends with an interesting message.

There is enough to take home with you after viewing Life. Within the film are a series of sparse moments that are vividly memorable and cinematic. It has enough interesting ideas to sustain a solid sci fi movie. It is not one of the best movies you will ever see but it is undoubtedly enjoyable.

Trainspotting 2 sacrifices affecting moments for laughs a little too often

T2 has all the usual problems that all sequels do

It’s an audacious strategy to release a sequel to a twenty year old film. The sequel is a strange beast. In 2017 the possibility hangs over any moderately successful film like a black cloud, threatening to disrupt the legacy or integrity of what was once a finished piece. Yet by cobbling together the original cast, director and original author (Irvine Welsh’s Porno is a sequel to the book Trainspotting) the Trainspotting sequel was shaping up to be one of those mould breaking exceptions.

Sequels are at their most fruitful when they take place in an unreal world, Aliens, Terminator: Judgement Day and LOTR: The Two Towers stand out as the most effective sequels as they have a mythology to build upon. The issue with a Trainspotting sequel is that the film was more character driven, it was a look at the people on the lowest rungs of society rather than a look at the society itself. The issues that arose came from the problems that these characters faced due to the poor life choices, it was all very personal. Whilst Ellen Ripley faced demons and Sarah Connor had her issues, these films told higher concept stories above the personal drama. Trainspotting is a self-contained world where nothing the addicts do will affect the world outside of their own circle, it is not a film which lends itself to sequels.

The film follows up with Renton (Ewan Mcgreggor), twenty years after leaving Edinburgh, coming back home and reuniting with his old group as a clean man. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is in prison, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is extorting money and running a pub and Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is still living the life of a junky. Renton teams back up with Sick Boy in a scheme to turn his pub into a spa/ brothel but there are still tensions in the group regarding his betrayal of the group at the end of the first film. This leads to chase scenes (like in the first film), bar brawls (like in the first film) and the group being terrified of a murderous Begbie (like in the first film)

This is all to be expected, as I said, the sequel is a strange beast. Things must be revisited otherwise it is just another film with the same characters in. Trainspotting 2 revisits the events of the first in an interesting way, it contains almost all the same events only shuffled about and recreated in a different light. A friend described the film as a remix of the first, this rings true when you look at the structure. It’s not hard to imagine the first film plotted out on post-it notes, them being randomly jumbled into a new order and the story of the second being fleshed out around that skeleton.

The film when looked at on its own merits is wonderfully funny, colourful and vibrant. It makes the most of dramatic lighting and shadows, one scene of Spud holed up going cold turkey makes particularly good use of shadows to demonstrate torment. The neon green light that seems to follow Sick Boy around amplifies the constant expressions of disgust that plagues his face. The film is constantly placing characters within interesting frames and filming them from odd angles, close-ups and canted angles galore. It’s jarring and a bit overused but for the most part it works. However, it does seem as if the film is trying too hard at some points to replicate the effects of the world bending of the first. One scene of a coke fuelled football argument is inspired and creative but the film does not revisit the reality bending with the same passion again, making it seem as if a scene left over from the first film rather than a cohesive piece of T2.

Trainspotting 2 is an uneven film that leans a little too heavily on the goofy side. The original was a dark comedy with moments of surreal horror (you know what scene I’m referencing), the sequel is almost entirely comical, and there are no real moments that stun or creep out. This could be due to the lack of heroin use in the film, something which was a cornerstone of the first is absent from the second. On many occasions the film does well to establish drama only to have it fizzle away into nothingness, the apparent resentment between Renton and Sick Boy never really pays off after having a lot of time spent on it, Spud’s recovery is glanced over and Sick Boy’s cocaine habit is just background noise. Potentially affecting moments are sacrificed for comedy a little too often and the dynamic of the group remains unchanged for the most part. It is a little too self-indulgent in its praise and reverence for its forebear, the fact that the film ends on a recreation of a shot from the first shows how little the filmmakers believed this film would have any impact.

Recommendation

A sequel is a sequel and it cannot avoid its fate, they will almost always be lesser when they ride the wave of the original and T2 is guilty of this. Yet it performs admirably considering the wealth of factors working against it. It is, on the hole, a laugh out loud story filled with likeable characters featuring well written dialogue and constantly interesting cinematography.

Trainspotting is a modern classic. T2 is a good film, a solid sequel and an enjoyable comedy. Ultimately it inherited the humour and characters of the first, but not the punch.