Movie Review: LIFE

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lifeColumbia Pictures
2017
R

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

I grew up being a space science nerd at a very young age. I remember being fascinated with space and space travel since before Kindergarten. My parents maintained an ongoing subscription to Discover magazine for several years for me (it had the most pictures and stuff), as well as encouraged me to learn more about this area of study as much as they could. Of course, this just fed into my growing love of the science fiction genre, especially with movies. Which is to say, sooner or later it was inevitable that I would get around to watching the latest Alien rip-off, Life.

Okay okay okay, maybe “rip-off” is the wrong word to use, here. I mean, on the surface, the premise of Life (which, sadly, does not involve shots of the nummy cereal food) seems pretty similar, with some modifications: a bunch of scientists on the International Space Station discovers microscopic life within a soil sample taken from a Mars expedition, they manage to revive said life and watch in fascination as the space amoeba grows from microscopic to a CGI blob-ish thing. Eventually, one of the scientists decides to zap the alien blob because science, which annoys the blob–which was named Calvin by the scientists, by the way, like how you name a goldfish–leading to it somehow kicking the butt of the scientist and escaping its enclosure, and managing to kill a couple other scientists before getting out of the lab. Also, whenever Calvin eats something, it (he?) gets bigger. Naturally. Soon, the surviving scientists find themselves trying their darndest to survive and not get eaten, while the damage to the space station mounts along with the body count. Soon, it’s down to two remaining scientists, who hatch a plan to lure Calvin into one of the escape pods and blast him back out into deep space. Only, this involves one of the scientists to be inside with Calvin and manually override the preset controls to get it to not land on earth, while the other scientist escapes on the other pod to get back to Earth and warn everyone of a potential threat. We then end on a twist that everyone saw coming the moment the solution was mentioned. The end.

Life, as a science fiction movie, is fine. It’s well-shot, well acted and manages to get some effective claustrophobic thrills out of a story that is rather cookie-cutter. Again, I refer back to the comparisons to the movie Alien that everyone seemed to be making, and there’s some point to that; after watching Life, I personally like to think that this was more a prequel to the movie The Blob, mainly due to how Calvin ate and metabolized everything. And while we’re on the topic of Calvin, I have to say that the “monster Calvin” effects were kind of…off. He came off as kind of an underwater fern thing rather than a space monster. But, in the end, while I saw the ending coming, I was pleased with the standard dun-dun-duuuuun ending they went with.

Overall, I get the nagging feeling that Life would have worked better as an episode of the revival-era Outer Limits television show, rather than a full-length movie. The movie does try to get that hard sci-fi cred with how they approach the science part of the fiction; by the time the ending credits roll, though, I wasn’t really craving more beyond that. Worth a rental, at least.

Movie Review: RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH

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radio free albemuthFreestyle Digital Media
2010
R

Part of the reason why science fiction author Philip K. Dick fascinates me–okay, more like a good chunk of the reason–is because of the reason why he was so good at writing stories involving themes of paranoia, loss of identity, and metaphysical weirdness: namely, he suffered from a kind of mental illness that translated really well into his fiction. Among other things. And since insanity is kind of a hobby of mine, of course I would have been drawn to Dick’s work sooner or later. And now, if you’re done giggling immaturely at the multiple use of the word “Dick”, let’s continue on with this review, shall we?

I haven’t read the book Radio Free Albemuth is based on yet (getting around to it, there), but from what I understand, it’s a mind-blowing stew of sci-fi that takes on new meaning when you realize that it’s semi-autobiographical, as far as Philip K. Dick was concerned. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I really don’t know if this movie follows it closely, and considering the track record of all of the other movies that are based on Philip K. Dick novels and stories, it would be more surprising if this one did stick close to the source material.

Regardless, the story of Radio Free Albemuth tells the tale of a record producer named Nick who starts getting strange visions by way of alien signals being beamed into his brain every night in the wee hours of the mornin’. Both his wife and his best friend–who just happens to be writer Philip K. Dick…how meta–initially think he’s having a breakdown of sorts; but when his visions start having this uncanny way of coming true…yeah, they still think he’s having a breakdown, but now they just smile and nod politely. Soon, though, sNickers meets Alanis Morissette, who has been having the same kind of visions, and together they decide to record and release a super-subversive song to help stir dissent against the fascist regime that controls America, because this is an alternate reality of sorts, and there are roves of SS-style police called the Friends Of People…or FAP, if you needed to giggle uncontrollably…roaming around ready to spirit you away to jail at the drop of a tin-foil hat. Are there aliens beaming things into people’s heads? Is there really a government conspiracy to stamp out those in tune to said alien frequencies? Will I manage to stay awake during the entire run of the movie?

Oh, but this was a rather long, boring mess of a movie to sit through. The pacing just kind of plods along, the actors give performances that seems like they’re sleepwalking through everything. Maybe this was a directing decision? To put forth that everyone is sleeping through the reality? I don’t know. What I do know is, I’ve seen more charisma and dynamic acting in a grade school play than I did watching this movie. Which is a pity, because I have no qualms with the plot itself. I count myself as a fan of Philip K. Dick, the writer. I haven’t read the VALIS trilogy, which is what this movie is derived from, and for the most part it does have the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia that I love so very much.

I get the feeling that Radio Free Albemuth could have been pulled off with enough of a budget and much more work on both the script and getting some actors with even a modicum of personality. Maybe a different 90s alt rock star, instead of Alanis Morissette. Shirley Mason was pretty good in the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

In the end, Radio Free Albemuth ranks as one of the lower adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s material. Watch it if you must, but just remember to have the coffee ready to go.

HALLOWEEN’ING 2014: Day 12 – Alien Chestburster Prank

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I know, I know, I’m posting today’s HALLOWEEN’ING rather early. But, I stumbled across this while having breakfast, and it’s too good not to post. This is inspired.

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