Life

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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

Self/Less

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2015

Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Produced by Ram Bergman/Peter Schlessel/James D. Stern

Written by David Pastor/Alex Pastor

Generally when I go to the movies I plan it out what I’m going to see the day before. My wife and I usually go on a Tuesday because it’s Bargain Day at our favorite film emporium and we get away with paying $7. We also make a shopping/errand day out of it, treating ourselves to a bit of fun after taking care of business. But this Tuesday we didn’t plan on seeing anything as there was nothing in the theater either of us particularly cared to see (and “Ant-Man” doesn’t come out until Friday, dammit) so we were just going to call it an early day and head on home.

That’s before a series of truly torrential thunderstorms began coming down. We were in Long Island, a good 30 miles or so from our house and I didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Brooklyn in a thunderstorm so Patricia and I said “what the hell” and elected to kill a couple of hours going to see SELF/LESS. Neither one of us had heard much good about it but we figured; “How bad could it be?”

I shoulda took my chances with the thunderstorm.

Billionaire real estate titan Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is dying from cancer. He leaves behind immense wealth and a broken relationship with his only child, his daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery). As he approaches death the only thing he truly wants is more time to heal the wound between him and Claire. Salvation arrives in the form of the mysterious Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who claims that through a process he calls “shedding” he can place Damien’s consciousness into a young, healthy body that he says he’s grown in his laboratory.

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Damien is skeptical. He didn’t get to be a billionaire by letting people make a fool out of him, after all. But after a trip to Albright’s lab and seeing the multiple bodies he’s grown, “vessels waiting to be filled” as Albright phrases it, he’s ready to sign on the dotted line. And pretty soon he wakes up in a fine, firm new body with a new name: Edward Mark Hale (Ryan Reynolds)

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Damien/Edward moves to New Orleans, makes a new friend, Anton (Derek Luke) and pretty soon he’s playing pickup games of basketball, jet skiing, clubbing, partying like a rock star and banging supermodels. Life is pretty sweet until the visions start. Visions of a wife and child. Of a house and a life that is not his. Could it be that he’s remembering the life of Edward Hale? Damien sets out to find if the visions have any truth behind them and in the process finds out that Professor Albright and his “shedding” process is far more frightening than he was led to believe.

Now, by the time I got to this part of the movie I was 75% convinced that I was watching an uncredited remake of “Seconds” the classic John Frankenheimer directed suspense thriller which stars Rock Hudson in what many (including me) think is the finest dramatic work he’s ever done on film. In “Seconds” a middle-aged business man fed up and unhappy with his life (John Randolph) gets a chance to live a new life in a new body thanks to a mysterious organization run by an equally mysterious Old Man played by Will Geer. Randolph wakes up in Rock Hudson’s body and I will say no more about “Seconds” other than if you have not seen it, then consider it your homework assignment for the weekend to do so.

So the first 20 minutes or so of SELF/LESS point in that direction and actually isn’t bad at all. It’s once Ryan Reynolds takes over that the movie winds down, replacing what started out as a story about dealing with mortality with a By The Numbers action plot. Once Damien starts remembering Hale’s life and gets himself involved with Hale’s wife (Natalie Martinez) and child (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) Albright marks them all for death and they have to take it on the lam.

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Y’know, even if director Tarsem Singh had indulged his extraordinary talent for eye-popping visuals, cinematography and costuming then we would at least have a movie worth looking at. Movies of his such as “The Fall” “The Cell” and “Immortals” are dazzling visual feasts if nothing else. I myself don’t understand the point of hiring a director who is renowned for his visual style and then have him not use that visual style to punch up such a plodding, dull story.

Or maybe Tarsem wanted to show he could direct a B-level actioner like everybody else without falling back on the visuals. Bad choice. I will say that there are a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes and gun battles that he directs with snap, crackle and pop. But then again, there are half a dozen other action directors that could have done those scenes with just as much skill and energy.

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Ryan Reynolds gives it his all here and I appreciate that he does his job to the best of his ability. He’s not phoning in his performance here and while he can’t carry a whole movie on his back, it’s not for lack of trying. Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans or Chris Pratt would have stuck this movie in their back pocket and walked away with it but Ryan ain’t them. But the fault of the movie doesn’t fall on him or any the supporting cast. Tarsem and his writers David and Alex Pastor iceberged this particular Titanic

Bottom line is this: wait for it to show up on Netflix if you’re at all interested in seeing it. An intriguing premise with talented actors and a phenomenal director is completely wasted and thrown away for the sake of a few car crashes, explosions and fights. What a shame.

116 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Green Lantern

2011

DC Entertainment/De Line Pictures

Directed by Martin Campbell

Produced by Donald De Line and Greg Berlanti

Screenplay by Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg

Based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Comics

The superhero summer of 2011 was one that didn’t disappoint me.  Out of the all the superhero movies I saw, two I consider outstanding: “Captain America” and “Thor” One really good: “X-Men: First Class” and then there’s the enjoyable time-waster: GREEN LANTERN.  And don’t get me wrong.  I liked GREEN LANTERN a lot.  In fact, I saw it in 3D and I still liked it a lot.  But it’s not enough of a liking for me to put it on the same shelf with those others

Hot shot test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is skating on very thin ice.  During an important demonstration he crashes his plane and blows a defense contract.  This forces Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) The Vice-President of Ferris Aircraft to ground Hal.  Or so she thinks.  Hal is whisked away by a glowing green bubble of energy to a crashed alien space ship.  The pilot of the ship is Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) an honored member of The Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic peacekeeping force 3600 strong who police the known universe.  Abin Sur gives Hal his power ring which can create or do anything its wearer can visualize.  Abin Sur is dying and he sent his ring to find a successor.  The ring has chosen Hal.  He barely has time to let all this sink in before the ring snatches him far into space to Oa, the home planet of The Green Lantern Corps and their immortal masters, The Guardians of The Universe.

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Once on Oa, Hal is trained how to use his ring by Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan) under the watchful and distrustful eye of Corps Leader Sinestro (Mark Strong).  Hal is the first human ever to have been inducted into The Corps and Sinestro makes it quite plain he doesn’t think the brash, irresponsible Hal can make it in his beloved Corps.

But they don’t have much time to get him battle ready.  Abin Sur crashed on Earth because he was fleeing from Parallax (voice by Clancy Brown) Once a Guardian himself, Parallax harnessed the energy given off by fear and himself became a creature capable of destroying worlds with that power.  He escaped from the prison planet Abin Sur locked him away in and now Parallax is on his way to Oa to destroy The Corps and The Guardians.  But first he’s got to stop off and have Earth for an appetizer.

Notice that so far I haven’t mentioned the Hector Hammond subplot.  That’s because I didn’t like it and thought it completely unnecessary to the story.  We’ve already got more than enough with establishing Hal and The Green Lantern Corps.  I’d much rather the movie had spent more time on Oa with Tomar-Re, Kilowog and the rest of The Corps.  When we’re out in space with Hal the movie snaps, crackles and pops.  But when we get back to Earth and we’re stuck with the antics of Hammond and the boring-as-boiled-cotton romance between Hal and Carol a lot of the energy goes out of the movie.

That’s not to say that the movie has bad performances.  Peter Sarsgaard as Hammond and Angela Bassett do their best with what they’ve got to work with and they’re actually very good, even though it’s totally unnecessary for Amanda Waller to be in this movie.  They could have given her scenes and lines to Hammond’s dad (played by Tim Robbins) and it would have worked much better.

I liked Ryan Reynolds a lot as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern.  I’ve got friends of mine who say they don’t like him because they see him as cocky, arrogant, hyper-confident and maybe that’s true.  But it also makes him a helluva lot more interesting to watch up there on screen than a mopey Tobey Maguire whining about not being able to pay his rent.  The acting honors I’d have to give to Mark Strong.  Even knowing what Sinestro eventually becomes, I was impressed by how Mark Strong was able to give a depth of honorable nobility and commitment to his belief in the Corps and The Guardians to Sinestro.  But Blake Lively…sigh…if she had any kind of artistic integrity, she’d give the check back.  Is her performance that bad?  Yes.  Yes it is.

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And even though I stay away from 3D movies as if they were Ebola, I did see GREEN LANTERN in 3D and I was honestly surprised at how much I liked it.  When the movie was in outer space I thought the 3D worked well.  Superhero space opera like GREEN LANTERN is the kind of stuff that 3D should be used for and they suckered me in with it.  I haven’t enjoyed a 3D movie so much since 2008’s “Journey To The Center of The Earth”  I’ve read other reviews that dump on the movie for having too much CGI but for a movie like GREEN LANTERN I don’t think there’s such a thing.  Hey, it was worth the price of admission just to get scenes such as Sinestro addressing the entire Corps and see all the various alien Green Lanterns taken straight out of the comic books.

The director Martin Campbell has done way better movies (his two James Bond and two Zorro films) but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of here.  I really appreciate directors like Mr. Campbell who know how to direct action scenes so that we know exactly what is happening, who is hitting, who is being hit and why.

So should you see GREEN LANTERN?  I say Yes.  Despite the disappointing ending and the unnecessary Hector Hammond subplot and the boring performance of Miss Lively, the movie is faithful to the spirit of the character and that’s enough for me.

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Rated PG-13

114 minutes