Monday, July 3, 2017

What's Wrong with this Picture? (SF Movie Review Duo)

I very, very seldom invest in tickets to Hollywood movie releases anymore. Why? No, it's not the cost and it's not because I don't enjoy the sight, sound and live audience experience of seeing a feature film on the big screen. It's more a case of Hollywood and I not often seeing eye-to-eye on what constitutes great entertainment.

This week, I've got two cases in point--reviews of two Sci-Fi movies at opposite ends of the genre spectrum. I caught these both on satellite. One is a flat, down-in-the-dirt NO GO/NEVER AGAIN and the other is a "this could have been more enjoyable, but..." PASS. Let the buyer beware.

These reviews will contain major spoilers, but I'll white them out. If you want to read them, just highlight the blank spots with your cursor.

Let's start with the first, which is probably one of the ugliest science fiction films I've seen in years, both cinematically, artistically and, well...just about any other way it can be judged. Wow, it was bad! If it was a book, it would have been one of the "fast pitch it against the wall" variety.


Rated R
Opened March 24, 2017

Billed as a "Science Fiction Thriller," I think it might more aptly be described as "Science Fiction Roadkill." It hurts to shred this one, because I thought it had fantastic potential when I saw the trailer and it did star one of my favorite actors, Jake Gyllenhaal, trying to do what he could with very bleak, flawed material. He failed. Miserably. Sorry Jake.

The premise is intriguing. Ancient, potential life is found on Mars and transported via an unmanned ship to the ISS--International Space Station--in an attempt to revive and study it.

Cool, yes? So what happened?

The arrival scene at the ISS is so outlandish and the execution so flawed, that in just the first ten minutes I could see this film wasn't going to co-exist in the same galaxy as the masterpiece of its genre--Alien. (Even though many critics have compared the two, which frankly must be the worst kind of insult to the time-tested Alien and its equally stellar sequel, Aliens. Even the darker, stomach-turning Prometheus was a class act compared to this bomb.)

I hesitated to include this trailer, because it seems to infer the movie might actually be worth watching. Yeah. Fooled me, didn't they?

From there, things just deteriorate. Poor dialogue. Choppy scenes. Random events thrown in with seemingly meaningless intent (such as how the alien got it's name). Unsympathetic too-stupid-to-live characters whose actions are so un-astronaut-like they're laughable.

But the coup de gras was the ending [SPOILER ZONE] where after the creature is reanimated, it evolves from a cute little, curious slug to a hyper-aggressive and dangerously bloodthirsty squishy wolverine/octopus who proceeds to crush limbs and invade lungs. The ISS is (of course!) destroyed with most of its crew mutilated by the Martian invader. The last two escape pod lifeboats are: 1) pointed at Earth with the female sole survivor carrying her dire warning, and 2) pointed at deep space with the nasty alien monster and the sacrificing male hero aboard.

Guess what? The trajectories somehow get switched, and guess which ship goes where? Yes, this one ends with the implied destruction of all living things on Earth, making the ineffective and often foolhardy sacrifices made by the ISS astronauts all for naught, including the poor soul who's flung off into deep space screaming for her life. Who cares if we no longer have an ISS? There'll be no one left to operate it anyway. Everyone's doomed. Lovely. [END SPOILER]

In a Thrillist article, the writers said they wanted the movie to end with an unexpected twist. It was unexpected for me, all right. I expect a movie to end with at least some glimmer of redeeming value.

This one was so bad, I couldn't even stand to watch it again during my two-day window. Nope. Nada. Never. It's a PASS-PASS-PASS-PASS-PASS!

Next up...


Rated PG-13
February 3, 2017

Don't get me wrong. This one was kind of cute. At times, even really cute. Being a YA Sci-Fi it can get away with the somewhat hokey, glossed-over, sketchy scenes and cliches-ala-twists.

A secret baby grows up on Mars, his existence and identity kept a carefully guarded from the public (yes, the premise is a little outlandish, but I could overlook that). After outwitting his guardians and making contact with Earth, he decides he must meet the girl of his dreams, Tulsa, another teenager with whom he's been communicating on the internet. And, of course, who lives of Earth.

And, of course, he finds a way to meet her. And to see the planet he's heard so much about.

The fish-out-of-water story is humorous and refreshing, in spite of its flaws, and has many scenes that made me laugh out loud. I thought Asa Butterfield was adorable as Gardner Elliot. (No stranger to YA SF, since he was also the actor who played Ender in Ender's Game. Only now he's taller!)

The story arc gets a bit convoluted (or more convoluted, I should say) when Gardner also decides he must find his father while he's on Earth and must evade government and NASA types who want to spirit him off back to Mars for his own good.

Ah, but here's where things went seriously amiss for me.

[SPOILER ZONE] No one in the story even blinks at multiple counts of theft on the part of the heroine. And I'm not talking about bubble gum here--the young lady steals vehicles. Multiple times. Motorcycles, cars...even an airplane! One vehicle she steals from a family that has just arrived at a hospital in a panic and dashed inside to see their loved one. How heartless and uncaring! And yet she doesn't give that a second thought and acts as if it's perfectly acceptable thing to do since she's helping a friend with a quest. Like it's all some big innocent adventure.

I understand she's had a hard knock life going from foster home to foster home, but that doesn't make it okay. The hero even questions her once and tells her it's wrong, but then never expresses concern again...presumably because he's so intoxicated with experiencing Earth--and her--that it never again crosses his mind. 

Yet in spite of repeat offenses, she is never once arrested, punished, scolded...or given even so much as a slap on the wrist for what amounts to multiple counts of Grand Theft. In fact, I don't think it's even mentioned as a "no-no" by any adult at any time in the story. And then, at the conclusion--after Gardner must return to Mars for the sake of his own survival--she's seen in astronaut training. As if nothing ever happened. As if the astronaut program would even consider someone who has committed numerous felonies. Life ala Hollywood. This behavior is not okay, and the fact that it's being shown in the vein of a "fun adventure" is very disturbing on many levels.  

Apparently, Hollywood has no issue with portraying criminal behavior like it's just a frivolous teen escapade, and has no qualms with selling it as a desirable adventure to an impressionable young audience. [END SPOILER ZONE]

Yeah, there's me and Hollywood not sharing the same set of ideals again.

So, although this film had promise, based on its troublesome's a PASS.


If you celebrate Independence Day, I hope you're enjoying the holiday and reflecting on the history and traditions behind it.

Over 153 years ago, Abraham Lincoln began and ended the Gettysburg Address with words that still stand the test of time:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal..."

"...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Have a great week.



  1. Well. Thanks for the warning. That LIFE movie has pinched a few ideas from here and there, hasn't it? But I suppose that happens all the time. I can see why reviewers might compare it to Alien.

  2. Right, Greta. The two are considered in the same genre but the differences in execution are glaring. Life failed to capture the escalating elements of suspense and terror that Alien and Aliens did so well. The crew dynamics in the Alien movies was also vastly superior to Life. But, at the core, the two were both about the possible dangers of interacting with an alien life form that we know nothing about.

  3. I cannot/do not watch horror films or anything jumpy, so I had no intention of ever seeing Life anyway. I've never watched any of the Alien films for the same reason. The Space Between Us was so poorly advertised/promoted here that we blinked and missed it even though I'd thought about taking my daughter. I'll probably watch it when it comes on TV simply because I like Asa.


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