Get Out: Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

My good friend and collaborator Sean E. Ali has finally gotten around to seeing the one movie that apparently everybody and their mother has seen and loved this year: GET OUT. And as usual, his thoughts about the movie are thoughtful, insightful and as on point as Simone Biles sticking the landing after dismounting from a balance beam. And as usual he posted them on Facebook. And as usual I went ahead and re-posted his post here as what he has to say is too good not to be preserved for others to read. So without further delay, I turn the floor over to Mr. Ali…

So I finally got around to seeing Jordan Peele’s GET OUT

The image with this?

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Yeah, that was me too, folks.

In fact that’s STILL me because I’m wondering if the Sunken Place is a reflection of American society, with regards to race, as it is a state of mind. I left the theater and went to the store and it was hard to shake the impression GET OUT had made in the short time it rolled out.

Really, I kept looking around, feeling like I was being watched.

I even turned on the flash on my phone.

I’ve heard this film described as a horror film, a horror action comedy, a mystery thriller comedy, a suspense thriller, a compelling statement on race and racism…

…more than a few conservative white bloggers went down the usual path of the film being racist or reverse racism – with emphasis on the way the final act of the film plays out and (of course) how the way it plays is just another example of the black revenge sentiment on white people… blah, blah, blah, Obama, blah, PC culture, blah, blah…

That segment of criticism being complete and total bullshit.

If you leave GET OUT thinking it’s racist against white people, you are, in my humble opinion, the stupidest individual God ever allowed to be born and please, for the love of that same God – do not breed.

Honestly, Earth has enough dumb people with no direction and scads of free time.

Just check your brain at the door and pick up your crayons while I get back to this.

So the film opens with an unidentified black man apparently lost in the middle of a very suburban neighborhood. He’s looking for a particular house to hook up with some people, but as the scene plays out he never gets to his destination. The manner of his detour is honestly something black comedians have joked about forever, it’s possibly one of those nagging thoughts anyone gets in an unfamiliar spot that falls under the “what if?” category of things you hope never happen to you far from home.

We go to the title credits and get dropped into a back and forth set of lead up scenes: a young, attractive white woman having a hard time choosing a donut and a dark skinned black man shaving like he’s about to go on a date. A couple more beats in, the black man becomes Chris, a photographer with a good eye to judge from the images and the white woman becomes Rose, his girlfriend who’s about to introduce him to the folks which means a road trip to a secluded house near a lake in the middle of nowhere…

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It’ll probably be the longest trip of Chris’s life…

…if he survives it.

Now I’m probably one of the last folks to see this film. Horror’s not my thing as a genre and even with the surface racism and the deeper examination of disposability of black lives in general and black men in particular – a very real and current situation that has been more prevalent in recent years than ever, the less discussed in the open subject of genetics and how perceptions of natural ability can be envied and coveted by those who are gifted differently, stereotyping and tone deaf “white ally” progressives who are sometimes far more ignorant than the bigots they criticize, and possibly the ultimate application of racial appropriation that I’m ever going to see for some time – this film was not calling me because even with all that, it still fell in the “horror” line.

So what got me in the seat today?

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Folks who saw the film discussed it with the aspects mentioned above as a major part of their conversations. The movie itself is quick and to the point. It sets up the situation, tosses us into odd, layered with strange, layered with discomfort, layered with something sinister and disturbing. It’s pretty predictable in spots, you figure out pretty quickly where Chris stands in relation to the other players in this one, and even how he manages to get a shot at getting out of his situation if he’s lucky. I will spoil it a little by saying there are no really redeemable or sympathetic white characters who will be saving the day…

…and that’s seen as well as unseen when I think about it…

It’s Chris’s show practically from start to finish.

After going through it, I graded it more as a sci-fi thriller in a TWILIGHT ZONE meets OUTER LIMITS with a nod to Blaxploitation horror flicks from the 70s. Rod Serling would’ve written this in another time be place. If you don’t believe me, see the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “The Encounter” which features George Takei as a Japanese American gardener who has to deal with a prospective client who is a bitter, bigoted veteran from World War II grappling with the way the world is changing as the civil rights movement was starting to get underway and the Japanese were proving to be pretty adept at miniaturizing electronics. The story Serling wrote then was equally frank in its observations and wasn’t broadcast for over a quarter century because white viewers at the time were horrified that they could be presented so harshly.

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Let’s take a moment to remind folks that Serling was a successful white guy who was acclaimed as a television screenplay writer as well as playwright, so you know folks were upset to not air that one again…

…but then race wouldn’t have been the excuse, it would’ve been Serling’s liberal bent to blame…

But the film itself isn’t anything you haven’t seen before in THE STEPFORD WIVES or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with the exception of the villains of the piece not being some fantasy threat, but an exaggerated satire on one ethnic group usually deferred to as greater being as brutal and selfish as any “thug” in execution of their goals…

…but they smile in your face the whole time they’re trying to kill you.

So, if you haven’t gone to see GET OUT, should you?

Oh yes, absolutely…

…and if you’re still bugged at the end by the way white people are portrayed. If you think that it’s unfair and not terribly sensitive…

…welcome to my world.

The Sunken Place is everywhere when you think about it.

Still I think you’ll enjoy it nonetheless.

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The Fate of The Furious

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2017

Universal Pictures

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Produced by Neal H. Moritz/Vin Diesel/Michael Fottrell/Chris Morgan

Written by Chris Morgan
Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson

If way back in 2001 when the first movie in the franchise “The Fast and The Furious” hit the theaters you had told me that movie would be the first in a series of (so far) eight movies and that the eighth movie would feature a better James Bond villain than most of the recent Daniel Craig James Bond movies….

And fans of the Daniel Craig/James Bond movies are right now rolling their eyes or tuning out this review. But what can I say? To a large degree, “The Fast and The Furious” movies (as well as the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” series) are giving me what I used to go to James Bond movies for. Insanely over the top action sequences. Astounding fight scenes. Lush, exotic locations. Cool gadgets and gizmos. More gorgeous women than one movie should be allowed to contain. Batshit insane plots that at once seem perfectly logical yet utterly nonsensical. Colorful, larger-than-life heroes. Brilliantly deranged multi-billionaire supervillains bent on taking over or destroying the world. All this and more is in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, a movie that despite being the eighth installment still manages to provide something new. A lot of it is improbable and some of it I do admit, baffling (the character development and relationships between Deckard Shaw, Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs is something that you’re either going to just have to go with or reject as total BS) but the movie delivers on what it promises and since I’m a fan of these movies, that was good enough for me.

Hard to believe that this series started off as a knock-off of “Point Break” ain’t it? In the course of eight movies we’ve watched Dominic Toretto and his crew morph from street racing hi-jackers into a gonzo, hyperactive mash up of The IMF and The A-Team and it’s been fun to watch. This movie ups the ante considerably as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) goes rogue and turns against his own team, forming an alliance with international cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) who has a plan to become her own nuclear superpower, a rival to both the United States and Russia.

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Dominic’s team is naturally baffled and mystified as to Dominic’s defection. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) thinks they should go get Brian O’Connor to help them out. Dominic’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) nixes that idea. Brian is out of the game (but it’s nice that they took a minute to acknowledge his character is happy in his retirement). The newest member of the team, hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) thinks they should give him up as a lost cause. The team’s technical expert Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) frankly doesn’t know what to make of the situation.

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Fortunately assistance arrives in the person of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) the government shadow operative and his protege Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) who brings along Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to capture both Dominic and Cipher and stop her nefarious plans.

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Oh, naturally it’s a little more complicated than that since you’ll remember (or maybe you don’t) that Deckard Shaw was the Big Bad of the previous movie and spent a considerable amount of the running time trying to kill Dominic and his crew. By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy involving the circumstances of Shaw’s joining the crew and I think that writer Chris Morgan could have done better than to simply not address the issue at all. But since there are two more movies left to go as the current scuttlebutt says that the series will wrap up with the tenth installment I’m thinking that maybe there will be more to this.

And actually, considering that Statham steals the movie every chance he gets with such energy and humor I don’t think anybody will mind too much. His bickering back and forth with Dwayne Johnson provides much of the humor with Tyrese Gibson picking up the rest as he seems to have settled comfortably in the role of the series’ comedic relief. And Statham has a fight scene on Cipher’s flying headquarters that is among the finest of fight scenes he’s done. Seriously. It’s that jaw-droppingly good.

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As for the set-pieces: there’s a race through the streets of Havana that’s a nice callback to the roots of the series. A wild sequence in New York where Cipher takes remote control of hundreds of cars in Manhattan and uses them as weapons and the insane final action sequence which finds Our Heroes in Russia, being chased across a frozen sea by a nuclear submarine, barely staying ahead of it while fighting off hoards of enemies in vehicles just as tricked out as theirs.

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Some are going to say that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS goes way too far. I’m not one of them. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it is, what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to deliver. It’s not embarrassed or ashamed of what it is and director F. Gary Gray handles his cast and his movie with a sort of delirious, goofy glee as if he’s having the time of his life and wants us to join in the fun. I know I did. Highly Recommended.

PG-13

137 minutes

Silver Streak

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1976

20th Century Fox

Directed by Arthur Hiller

Produced by Thomas L. Miller/Edward K. Milkis

Written by Colin Higgins

Music by Henry Mancini

For most people “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie is “Stir Crazy.” But lemme ask you this: outside of the “Dat’s right, we bad, we bad” scene, how much of the movie’s plot or story do you actually remember? And let’s not even bring “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You” into this conversation. Richard Pryor doesn’t enter SILVER STREAK until we’re a good hour into the plot but it’s a wise move. Because he gives the movie a huge burst of energy and unpredictability that carries us along for the other hour. He comes in the movie at exactly the right time he’s needed. And for me, that makes SILVER STREAK “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie. Put any of their other collaborations on the TV and I’ll most likely doze off thirty minutes in. Put SILVER STREAK on and I’ll be on the edge of my seat from start to finish. SILVER STREAK is a movie I’ve seen maybe fifteen times since I first saw in the theater way back in 1976 and I saw it again today on Netflix and laughed just as hard and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time I saw it.

Before you continue with this review I feel it only fair to warn you that this is the movie with the “shoe polish” scene where Richard Pryor disguises Gene Wilder in blackface in order to get him past FBI agents looking for him. In the context of the movie their actions make perfect sense. However I know the hypersensitive among you don’t give a poobah’s pizzle for context so maybe you should just go to another movie review, okay? But you’ll be cheating yourself out of the scene where Richard Pryor is attempting teach Gene Wilder how to “be black” is among one of the most hilarious in movie history.

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Book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) boards a train called The Silver Streak in Los Angeles to travel to his sister’s wedding in Chicago. Yeah, he could have flown but he’s looking forward to just getting some work done and being bored. His Pullman Porter Ralston (Scatman Crothers) assures him that boredom is exactly what he’ll get. He meets quite a few of his fellow passengers in the club car, including vitamin salesman Bobby Sweet (Ned Beatty) and ends up having dinner with the insanely hot Hildegarde “Hilly” Burns (Jill Clayburgh).

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Their late night rendezvous is interrupted by what George thinks is a dead body falling off the roof of the train past the window of Hilly’s compartment he sees while they’re in her bed. It’s complicated even more by George’s insistence that the man is her boss, Professor Scheriner (Stefan Gierasch) The next day George goes to check on the professor and instead runs into two shady characters, Whiney (Ray Walston) and Reese (Richard Kiel) who throw George off the train. They both work for Roger Deveraux (Patrick McGoohan) an international art dealer whose reputation will be destroyed if Professor Scheriner’s book about Rembrandt is published. Professor Scheriner has his possessesion “The Rembrandt Letters” ancient documents that will authenticate the claims Scheriner has made in public that Deveraux is a fraud.

George manages to get back on The Silver Streak with the help of eccentric crop duster Rita Babtree (Lucille Benson) who flies George to the next stop in her biplane and to his astonishment George sees that Professor Scheriner is not only alive and well but is ace boon coons with Deveraux. Hilly assures him that everything is okay. Well, George is ready to chalk up the whole thing to an alcoholic dream until Bob Sweet reveals that he’s actually FBI Agent Stevens and they’ve been after Deveraux for a year ever since he engineered a plane crash in Germany that killed 100 people just to cover his ass. Then Sweet/Stevens is killed and George is once more forced to jump off the train but when he seeks helps to get back on again it’s with the assistance of professional thief Grover T. Muldoon (Richard Pryor) and here’s where my plot synopsis stops because I cannot believe that after all I’ve told you, you wouldn’t want to see this movie.

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I mean, c’mon. Just look at the cast: Gene Wilder. Richard Pryor. Both at the height of their popularity and creative powers. Jill Clayburgh has never been sexier than she is in this movie. The bad guy is fargin Patrick McGoohan and his henchmen are Ray Walston and Richard Kiel. Ned Beatty. Scatman Crothers. Valarie Curtin, Fred Willard, Lucille Benson, Len Birmen and Clifton James (in a role that just as well might be a cousin to J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies) all have major and significant supporting roles.

SILVER STREAK is essentially a riff on the Alfred Hitchcock notion of an innocent man getting caught up in a situation way above his head but discovering that he’s got talents and gifts he never knew he had to help him. And Gene Wilder does a really good job of being Cary Grant. While watching this movie today I was struck by two things: I never before noticed how handsome Gene Wilder truly was and how well he wore his clothes. He’s at the center of SILVER STREAK and he makes the movie work by never elevating George Caldwell to to status of superhero. George is a ordinary guy but he rises to whatever challenge he has to meet with strengths he didn’t know he possessed until he had to use them.

As for Richard Pryor…what can I say about Richard Pryor in this movie other than in my list of Top Ten Favorite Richard Pryor Movies SILVER STREAK would be in the Top Five. Just for a scene that he and Gene Wilder have. They’ve stolen a fire-engine red Jaguar and are racing to Kansas City to save Jill Clayburgh from the bad guys. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor simply talk about the situation they’re in and what they have to do to save her and beat the bad guy while that magnificent Henry Mancini music quietly plays behind their dialog. That scene right there to me is what the magic of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in their movie collaboration was. SILVER STREAK is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Stop reading this review and go watch it.

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114 Minutes

Rated PG

Hudson Hawk

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1991

Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures

Directed by Michael Lehmann

Produced by Joel Silver

Screenplay by Steven E. de Souza/Daniel Walters

Story by Bruce Willis/Robert Kraft

There are those that will insist that HUDSON HAWK is a failure, a flop and a misguided project doomed from the outset to failure. I strongly disagree. It is a movie that along with “Big Trouble In Little China” “The Last Dragon” “The Assassination Bureau” “Sunset” “The Man With The Iron Fists” “Action Jackson” “Shoot ‘Em Up” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is a movie that nobody knew what to make of it because they couldn’t figure out what genre it was. Was it a caper movie? Yes. Was it a spy thriller? Yes. Was it a comedy? Yes. Was it action-adventure? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whatever you want to throw in. HUDSON HAWK was all of those and more because like those other movies I named and much more besides it defined being put in a genre because the story took whatever it needed from whatever genre it wanted to, mixed in wonderful characters and then it hit the ground running at top speed and never stopped until the end credits. Long before the term was coined and before I even knew what it was, when I saw HUDSON HAWK in the theater back in 1991 I knew I was watching a New Pulp movie.

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Eddie Hawkins aka The Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is the world’s greatest cat burglar. That’s why on his first day out of prison after doing a dime, he’s blackmailed by his parole office and the Mario Brothers (not the ones you’re thinking of. These guys run a Mafia family). Along with his partner Tommy “Five-Tone” Messina (Danny Aiello) he pulls off the theft of the last commissioned work done by none other than Leonardo DaVinci, their individual tasks synchronized to the both of them singing “Swinging On A Star” at the exact same time. Yes, yes, I know how it sounds but if you’ve seen the movie I’m willing to bet that you’re grinning right now. Because the scene is impractical, silly, goofy and yet, you’re singing right along with Eddie and Tommy. Me, I admire a movie for having the audacity to even pull off such a notion. And what the hell, it’s downright FUN to watch.

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What gets Eddie interested in what is going on is that when he turns over the item he’s stolen to the Mario Brothers and their employer Alfred (Donald Burton) there’s an object inside which is desired by Alfred’s employers: Darwin and Minerva Mayweather (Richard E. Gant and Sandra Bernhard) who in a masterful comic performance always keep us an audience off guard as to what the hell these two whackos are going to do next. The object is also desired by CIA Director George Kaplan (James Coburn) and his ‘MTVIA’ Agents, all of whom are named after candy bars: Almond Joy (Lorraine Toussaint) Kit Kat (David Caruso) Snickers (Don Harvey) and Butterfinger (Andrew Bryniarsky) as well as by Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who is a top operative for the Vatican’s own counter-espionage agency. Eddie is astounded to discover that the object was fabricated by none other than Leonardo DaVinci (Stefano Molinari who gets the best visual gag in the movie which also involves The Mona Lisa)

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The Mayweathers need Eddie to steal various DaVinci relics that will place in their possession the components of La Macchina dell’Oro. The last and greatest of DaVinci’s inventions. One that can turn lead into gold. The Mayweathers were supposed to be working with The Vatican and The CIA in this but oh those crazy kids decided to just go rogue and grab everything for themselves as they intend to use the power of La Macchina dell’Oro to control the world gold market. Hilarity ensues. As well as a lot of action and for me, at least, a fun movie.

My own personal theory as to why this movie wasn’t the hit it deserved to be back in 1991was that the year before, “Die Hard 2” completely blew all expectations to smithereens and made more money than the original. So people most likely went to the theater looking for something similar and simply didn’t know what to make of this goofy, pulp-inspired adventure. Moviegoers wanted to see more of John McClane or a character like him and just couldn’t get into this more laid back, less intense Bruce Willis who actually goes through most of the movie smiling and looking as if he’s having a great time.

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And for me, that’s one of the major pluses of HUDSON HAWK: everybody looks as if their having nothing but fun making this movie. David Caruso in particular stands out for me as he steals every scene he’s in without saying a word. Kit Kat communicates solely with business cards and by his wardrobe/costume in whatever scene he’s in. The chemistry between Willis and Aiello feels real and I could easily have seem them continue to play Eddie and Tommy in a Crosby/Hope style in future films. I love that is not only James Coburn in this movie but that sound effects and phone ringtones from his Derek Flint movies are used as well. “Bunny! Ball Ball!” The lush sets and gorgeous locations.

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Understand me, my intention is not to change your mind about HUDSON HAWK or indeed, any movie I review. It’s just for me to give you my insight as to why I like and/or love a particular movie and maybe intrigue and/or interest you enough to maybe want to see it for the first time or revisit it. HUDSON HAWK is one of those movies that everybody seems to either love or hate. You can put me firmly on the side of those who love it.

100 Minutes

Rated R

Forbidden World

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1982

New World Pictures

Directed by Alan Holzman

Produced by Roger Corman

Written by Tim Curnen/R.J. Robertson/Jim Wynorski

I watched FORBIDDEN WORLD on the heels of watching another “Alien” knock-off: “Life.” Despite is having been made 30 years ago, I’d have to say that FORBIDDEN WORLD is the better movie in terms of sheer entertainment. I mean, I actually had fun watching this movie whereas even though it’s got the bigger budget, major acting talent and far better special effects, “Life” was a slog to get through. Maybe it was because FORBIDDEN WORLD revels in gratuitous gore and nudity and I’m a depraved soul. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 1980s and have an affinity for movies of that period. I dunno. I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Which means of course that for some of you brought up on CGI you won’t even be able to get into this movie as you’ll dismiss the special effects. I say that there’s a certain amount of charm to be derived from watching a movie of this nature when the special effects are on the cheap but you can see where the people both in front of and behind the camera are doing their utmost to make it all work. And for me, it does.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell you on the notion that FORBIDDEN WORLD is some kind of sci-fi cult masterpiece. It ain’t. But what it is is a goofy artifact representing a style of moviemaking that isn’t done anymore.

There’s a scientific research station on the far distant world of Xarbia and something there has gone seriously out of control. Federation troubleshooter Mike Colby(Jesse Vint) along with his faithful robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) heads there to find out what’s going on.

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He meets up with the requisite motley crew manning the station. Creepy Scientist In Charge Dr. Hauser (Linden Chiles). His assistant Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick) who judging by her later actions with Mike must have gotten her degree in Sex Therapy.

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Lab Assistant Tracy Baxter (Dawn Dunlap) who, by the way appears to like taking showers with Dr. Glaser for no apparent reason other than…well, they just seem to like taking showers together. There’s your Head Of Security who must have gotten his job through nepotism as he appears to be woefully unable to secure anything and your Obligatory Mad Scientist Dr. Timbergen (Fox Harris).

What has gone wrong on Xarbia is “Subject 20” a synthetic DNA strain that the research team was genetically engineering in order to create a new food source. Subject 20 quickly metamorphs into a life form in in own right and begins killing the humans for food, injecting them with it’s own DNA to turn the humans into pure protein which it then consumes. Now I don’t know about you, but that demonstrates to me that somebody writing this thing was looking to do a bit more than just have their monster simply eat people. And this gives the special effects department an opportunity to go nuts showing still living human beings turn into gooey protein bars before being slurped up by Subject 20.

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I just wish that the writers had put a little more thought into some other aspects of the movie such as: if Mike Colby’s spaceship has hyper-drive then why is he in suspended animation at the beginning of the movie? And why was he under for so long that his son back on Earth is now older than he is? Are the flash-forwards we see Mike having while in suspended animation supposed to indicate he has some sort of psychic ability? And dagnabit, just why do Dr. Glaser and Tracy like to take showers together?

Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to sell you on FORBIDDEN WORLD being a lost masterpiece. Far from it. But it is a Roger Corman movie and if nothing else that man knew how to make a movie that keeps your attention. You can watch FORBIDDEN WORLD on YouTube at the link I’ve provided below. Get yourself some friends, some pizza, some booze and have a good time.

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Rated R

77 Minutes

Life

VkEOtTI

2017

Columbia Pictures/Skydance Media

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Produced by David Ellison/Dana Goldberg/Bonnie/Julie Lynn

Written by Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick

See, it’s a good thing that I let a couple of hours pass by between my seeing a movie and writing a review. Because if I had written a review of LIFE right after coming out of the theater I would now be telling you that it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Which isn’t fair to the movie and isn’t true. After all, I’ve seen “The Blue Lagoon” “Cursed” “Cabin Fever” “Altitude” and “Hostel.” All of which were far more excruciating movie watching experiences than LIFE. And it’s not even that LIFE is really all that bad of a movie. It’s worse in that it’s an unnecessary movie. I would have expected to see a movie like this on The SyFy Channel as it’s no more than an “Alien” knock-off. Sure it’s got big star names such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. All of whom must have done this movie as a favor or for contractual obligations as there’s nothing they do in this movie that is particularly outstanding in terms of acting. And it’s got a nice budget for special effects which are pretty good.

But here’s the thing; the days when Science Fiction movies lived and died on their special effects are long gone. Because the technology has advanced to the point where there really is no such thing as a movie having crappy special effects anymore. Every Science Fiction movie we see now has eye-popping special effects that don’t even impress us anymore because we take it as a given that every movie has fantastic special effects. So to really get us into the movie it’s got to have either great characters or a terrific story or preferably, both. LIFE has neither. And at 103 minutes it doesn’t give itself time to have either. The hostile alien antagonist shows up almost at the beginning of the movie and barely 20 minutes in, a major cast member is killed off. And since that cast member provided most of the movie’s wit, charisma and humor up to that point, the rest of the movie is doomed to be flat, predictable and dull.

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The multinational crew of the International Space Station is overjoyed with recovering a probe from Mars that contains soil samples that contain proof of extraterrestrial life. The dormant organism responds to stimuli and soon not only returns to life but quickly grows into a creature that the crew’s exobiologist Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) describes as “all muscle, all brain.” The news is relayed to Earth and the news is received with such joy and hoohaw that there’s even a contest to name the thing among elementary schools in the U.S. The creature is christened ‘Calvin’ and there is much joy and celebration.

On Earth, that is. Not on the space station because Calvin breaks out of the lab and quickly establishes that it is hostile and deadly, killing one crew member and serious maiming another in less time than it took me to type this sentence. And from then on it’s a battle for survival. Calvin gets larger and more intelligent the more it kills and the crew soon comes to realize that no matter how this battle comes out, Calvin cannot get to Earth.

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Now I really wish there was more for me to tell you about the movie but that’s it. Really. There’s no characterization to speak of so we really don’t get a chance to know these people before they start getting brutally killed off one by one. There is a scene where the Japanese member of the crew (Hiroyuki Sanada) is shown watching his daughter being born on Earth and for the rest of his time in the movie he constantly repeats how he has to get back to Earth to see her. Okay, I’m not entirely heartless. I fully understand the need of any father to want to see and hold his newborn daughter. But in this case, this is just lazy shorthand characterization to try and make us care about the character without really getting to know him. Give me reasons why I should care about this particular father and his desire to get back to Earth.

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Rebecca Ferguson who was such a knockout in “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” tries her best to bring some real emotion to her underwritten role and I give both her and Jake Gyllenhaal props for doing the best they can with such thin material to work with. And once I found out that the writers of this movie were the same writers responsible for the stupendously boring “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and the spectacularly unfunny “Deadpool” I knew exactly what the problem with the movie was.

My advice? Wait for LIFE to show up on Netflix or whatever is your favorite streaming service of choice if you really want to see it. It’s not worth burning the gas to go see it in the theater.

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103 Minutes

Rated R

Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.