Life Is A Gripping Ride

“Life” is a bit of a misnomer because while it does follow life, somewhat, it’s actually a thrilling, even scary ride that doesn’t let up once you’re strapped in. The film opens up on a view of space and a space probe returning from Mars while carrying a sample of Life poster 2

the planet’s soil. What’s especially scary about this s that within the next year, we are actually sending a probe to the Red Planet to do just that. The probe is damaged by small meteorites, so the crew of the International Space Station is tasked with retrieving the probe by using a large mechanical arm, then taking the soil sample in to study it for life signs. It doesn’t go quite as planned but the task is accomplished and the soil sample gets scrutinised. British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) Finds one microscopic organism in the soil, but an atmospheric accident in the lab causes the organism, named Calvin by school children, to become dormant. Hugh tries to make it

Life pic 2 active again by giving it mild electrical shocks. This has the unwanted effect of rendering Calvin violent, and it crushes Hugh’s hand and escapes into the lab, where it attaches itself to and consumes a lab rat, getting bigger in the process. Engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) enters the lab to retrieve Hugh, bur is himself attacked and killed by Calvin.

Life pic 1

From this point on, “Life” is essentially a remake of “The Blob” in space, but remains  a solid, edge of your seat sci-fi horror film as the ship’s crew gets to become Calvin’s “blue plate special”. It becomes critical when only two members are left—Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the space station’s orbit deteriorates as the two debate the possibility that the reentry may not kill Calvin. Jordan decides that Miranda must use one of the two escape modules and return to Earth as he enters the other module, traps Calvin inside, and directs himself into deep space, saving Earth. All I’ll say is it doesn’t quite turn out as planned in what turns out to be a final shocker in the end.

As I said earlier, considering the timeliness of our exploration of Mars, this becomes an even more frightening film.

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84 Years Later, Kong is Still King

Kong Skull Island 1

In 1933, Merian C. Cooper astounded the world by bringing a fantastic version of Beauty and the Beast to the silver screen. It was the story of a giant ape revered as a God on a remote island where evolution paused millions of years ago and dinosaurs still roamed. It was hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and was brought to life by master technician Willis O’Brien, with help from Marcel Delgado and a young Ray Harryhausen, that last being uncredited, but he used the experience in 1948 to create Mighty Joe Young. But enough history, let’s dissect this story.

William Randa (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) wrangle a senator to fund a mission for his Monarch Corporation, a nebulous entity shrouded in secrecy which is hunting for “large, living monsters”. The mission gets piggybacked with a geologic trip to the area, but not before Randa secures a military escort in the person of Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Col. Preston Packard and his Sky Devils helicopter assault team.

Kong Skull Island 2

It should be noted that this story unfolds shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, and Packard and most of his men are eager for “one more tour of duty” in this adventure, which is laced with 1970s classic rock tunes the audience of a certain age will fondly remember. The target, “Skull Island” is continuously surrounded by violent storms that have kept it hidden for a long time, and has just recently been identified by satellite imagery.

As the helicopters break through the clouds, they disperse and release “helicopter bombs” to assess the geological makeup of the island. This act brings out a titanic gorilla which attacks the helicopters and knocks them all out of the sky. Among the ragtag crew is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an aspiring photojournalist and peace activist looking for that one picture that will make her famous. The soldiers and civilians get separated and try to get back together again. As they roam around they encounter a huge mutant water buffalo. Conrad is a former member of the British Special Forces in Vietnam and a jungle expert, so he’s a natural leader for his group, which winds up at some ancient ruins where they encounter fierce-appearing natives and Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Riley), who has been living on the island since crashing there during World War II. Marlow gives them the lowdown on the native life forms on the island, which include giant spiders and ants (although we never see the ants) and a large snakelike animal with front arms and a bony head which he refers to as “skull crawlers”, a word he just made up because it “sounds scary”.

Kong Skull Island 3

Also present is a species of large cephalopod, which makes a brief appearance as a giant, active sushi bar for Kong. The skull crawlers are definitely the main threat as they are fast and ferocious, and manage to decimate the troops a bit as they amble around. Just as nasty are “ugly birds” of some mutant variety which are actually some sort of pterosaur that account for a few more deaths. Preston wants Kong dead, but Marlow is against the idea because he points out that Kong is basically the only means of protection against the skull crawlers, especially one “big one”. One of the scientists adds to the argument by pointing out that in nature, when one species is wiped out, another steps up to fill in the void.

Kong_Skull_Island_poster  This is NOT your grandfather’s Kong, and parents should be made aware that the scenes of gore and monster violence are very intense, so you may want to consider leaving the kiddies home for this one. The ending of this film is slightly upbeat, but I must confess I didn’t stick around for all the end credits to see how they were going to tie this one up with the Godzilla legend in 2020, so I may have missed a big point. The lush jungle scenery of Hawaii, Vietnam, and Australia give this film a “travelogue” look—at least until the monsters show up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beauty and the Beast Goes Gay

disneys-lefou  Disney will be treating the world to yet another new version of “Beauty and the Beast” shortly but it’s already drawn some unwanted press. In this version, Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad–see photo above), turns out to be gay. Maybe they figured they could push it past parents because it’s a Disney film, but it’s already gotten some backlash. One theatre in Alabama said they will not run this movie because having a gay character in it is an “act against God”.

I’m not sure where they beauty_and_the_beast_2017_poster got this from, but I’m pretty sure this theatre has previously shown movies that were equally or more “offensive” than merely having a gay character in it. The film has a powerful cast that includes Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci. The one scene in question is fleeting as best, as LeFou, who has often thought about being Gaston, wonders if it would be better to kiss him. Surely, this could have been palmed off as a form of “hero worship”, and I’m sure Disney will handle it with applomb and consideration for the kiddies’ sensitivities.

By this time, there is hardly a child who can follow this movie and does NOT have some idea about gays. Maybe  now that the movie industry is out of its seasonal kid movie cycle, and it’s about to bombard us with more adult themes and monsters,with “Kong Skull Island”, “CHiPs”, “Baywatch”, “Life”, and “Alien Covenant”, there will be precious little for thedisneys-lefou-2 kids to see apart from this Disney production, since “Power Rangers” and “Wonder Woman” may fall short of being exactly kid friendly. We could have done much worse than a gay character, and we know Hollywood CAN be funny with homosexuality since we’ve seen “Zorro, the Gay Blade” years ago. This is Disney, for heaven’s sake, but people are always finding hidden sexual innuendos about these films. Remember the clouds “forming the word SEX” in “Lion King”, or the “phallic symbol” on the “Little Mermaid” poster? Now they won’t have to look as hard. Come on, people! Get a life—this is 2017! I think it’s much more important to point out that the character’s name, LeFou, in French, means “the crazy one”. Is Disney trying to subtly pass the idea that to be gay, you must be crazy? I think THAT is the truly serious issue here.

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Minimum Wage Hike Means Doom

wendys   A tremendous battle is brewing over a hot-button issue that will culminate in a war with no winners. I am referring, of course, to this senseless minimum wage hike being sought by a lot of workers. Sorry, but we don’t need a higher minimum wage—we need prices we can afford.

The fast food segment is bearing the brunt of this fight, and while the wages earned by many of these people could use a slight upgrade, $15 an hour is too much. My last employment was as an upper level manager in the automotive segment, and I wasn’t making $15 an hour. You’re telling me burger flipping is more important than MY job?

Let’s look at the overall picture here. Too few people are making too big a share of the  money. An actor works three months on a movie and gets paid $20 million by the studio. Why? What makes him so special? His name? An athlete plays, for example, baseball. This is more like a job because he uses his skills to a higher extent. Yet he plays in about 100 games a year (much less if he’s a pitcher), yet makes the equivalent of over $100,000 an hour. These are the people who can afford $5 million homes and $80,000 cars. You can’t, yet want the same perks they do.

mcdonalds-sign  You petition for $15 an hour without considering what your employer will do about it. First, he’ll measure your importance against the company’s financial future—and this includes his wallet. Let’s see—one of our stores has 30 employees, and 15 of them mostly take orders, making them little more than waiters. People are more tech-savvy today than ever before, so we can replace the waiters with mechanised order kiosks. McDonald’s has begun doing this in several cities, and Wendy’s announced today it’s doing this in 1,000 of its stores soon. The result? No more temperamental employees being paid every hour of every day they work, and a few machines can now do the work of those 15 workers. Within months, we’ll have saved millions of dollars chain-wide in salary and medical coverage, not to mention having to pay into the tax structure. Company wins, you lose–money, house, and job.

dennysThe scenario is the same everywhere as our governments fail to see that my plan will put a stop to this. With lower prices, there will be no need for higher wages, and we can keep the status quo. If we keep spiraling in the opposite direction, the human race is doomed. It will become too costly to employ humans, but without humans being able to earn money, they can’t but your products, and you will become archaic yourselves. Result? Total chaos and civil war. Do we want that?Think about THAT in your ivory towers.

 

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Day Without Immigrants A Dud

protests-1   If you were expecting more of this mayhem, you were probably disappointed, although probably not as much as the people who participated. It was being billed as another protest, the Day Without Immigrants, and like the one a few years ago, it failed massively. Yes, a few companies, like McDonald’s closed quite a few stores, and small bodegas in mainly Hispanic sanctuary cities didn’t open their doors today, to which most of the population said “So what?”

Some years back, a similar “work stoppage” was tried by illegal immigrants nationwide, but the overall effect was that people who didn’t take part were amazingly pleased that with the lesser amount of traffic on the roads and a smaller number of customers in the stores, people reported shorter commuting times and a more pleasurable shopping experience.

I live in Washington now after finally being able (after a two-decade struggle) to escape California. Nearby Seattle is rapidly becoming the Santa Ana of the Northwest, and I think there was more support here than in southern California. I nonetheless posted on several Los Angeles TV station boards, and got much support when I mentioned the previous Day Without (Illegal) Immigrants. Many people recounted how they had not had such an easy commute since the same day years ago.

protests-2  Like the recent Women’s Protests, this “non-event” created nothing but ill feelings and indifference among non-protesters. I want to go on record here and say that NOT having the illegals report to work WILL affect some businesses, especially food and hospitality because overall, these people DO perform the jobs that legal citizens consider either too low-paying or “beneath their dignity”, which is why we have such an immigrant problem today.  The “privileged” middle class hasn’t caught up with the idea that there’s really no such thing as a “bad” job, just jobs that don’t pay what you’d like. This is a major problem that won’t be rectified until the Feds jump in and set price and salary controls.  Why should an actor get $20 million for a few month’s work to pretend to be someone else while people who perform actual life-saving work (like police and firemen, for example) get relatively low pay? Why should an athlete be paid (comparatively speaking, based on their salaries) $25,000 an hour and then work only six months out of the year? Then when he’s being interviewed on TV, he has to have a translator because he doesn’t understand or speak English? On that angle, I have to give pro wrestlers a big nod, since they work year-round without vacation (usually) in a job that can be dangerous. When’s the last time you heard a wrestler say he’s going on strike?

So, getting back to the illegals. Yes, you work in our fields and perform hard manual labour under less than ideal conditions for often inadequate pay, but you’re here because it’s still more than you’d make back home, if there WERE jobs. The fact that you chose to come here illegally, usually because you didn’t want to wait the required time to come here legally, is not relevant. You’re breaking the law and know it, which is why you refuse to apply for legal residence here. Because of this, you reap much dislike (and yes, hatred) from the citizens of this nation. Those of you who have a bit more education find citizen patsies who are willing to take a chance and offer you work in better jobs like retail and other services.  Today, some of you even feel as “privileged” as the people who are citizens, thanks to bleeding heart liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton. These politicians lead you to believe they actually care about you and even get you to illegally vote for them, and once they get into office, they reject you like last week’s trash.

My solution? Go back and try to re-enter America  legally, because I don’t think (although the idea HAS been bantered about) that you’ll ever see a mass “forgiveness” of illegals like we saw back in the 80s. We remember too well where THAT got us, and won’t repeat that mistake again.

 

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xXx the Return of Xander Cage

If somebody told me that I’d be going to see a “XXX” movie back in the 70s, it would have meant something completely different. Vin Diesel has already appeared as Xander Cage in a  couple of previous films, but in this one he’s “pressed” into service when he hears about his old boss being killed.

xxx-poster The action starts within seconds of the opening credits and never lets up under the direction of D.J. Caruso. In fact, if you look up the definition of “action movie”, it would probably refer you to the film. In a nutshell: a device called “Pandora’s Box”, which can be used to direct orbiting satellites into becoming weapons crashing down from space is stolen by agents from a government headquarters. When the “brass” decides that this will require equally skilled men to bring them in, a female official says she knows of such a man.

xxx-1 She goes to Santo Domingo to “reactivate” Xander Cage and team him up with some military muscle, but Cage has these men “drop out” and assembles his own crew, which begins a series of deceptions, double crosses, and triple crosses that keeps the audience guessing. Cage and crew travel to the Phillippines to track down the thieves, who turn out to be xXx agents themselves, including UFC Welterweight Champion Michael Bisping in a cool role. Much of this cast were virtual unknowns to me, but they all gelled quite well together.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Donnie Yen, 2017. ph: Michael The device is recovered, but as Xander points out when another satellite is highjacked, this was a “single unit” device, and the real one capable of accessing any satellite, is still out there. The real device is tracked down to Detroit, in a high-rise building, and the two groups of xXx agents work separately to get it, setting up a violent fight along Detroit streets until both teams decide to work together. It turns out the evil mastermind is himself a rogue CIA man with delusions of grandeur (old plot twist here).

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, Ruby Rose, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / ©Paramount /Courtesy Everett

Just as the villain is “taken out” by sharpshooter Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), yet another development pops up involving equally crooked government agents (surprise) and even more shootouts and a harrowing plane ride that resolves it all in a neatly wrapped package that brings Xander and Serena (Deepika Padukone) together before the final scene in a church for the funeral of dead chief Augustus Gibbons(Samuel L. Jackson) who was killed all the way back at the film’s beginning.

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, from left: Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone, 2017. ph: George Kraychyk / Diesel and Padukone, we deduce by the end, will definitely be an item. Diesel himself is listed as one of the producers in this movie, so he definitely has a vested interest in keeping the story going, and the end definitely points that way. “xXx” runs for just under two hours, and there isn’t time to get bored or even catch your breath, so if you crave action, you’ll get a full plate of it here.

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Passengers Is Believable Sci-fi

passengers-poster   Passengers takes a fresh new look at an old problem which is currently on a lot of lips as we prepare to colonise Mars—how will people get there? This film concentrates on the “Homestead Corporation” which is sending thousands of people (in this case 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members) to a new world on a 120-year long trip under suspended animation on the Starship Avalon. At the beginning, we see the huge, essentially robotic ship and how it handles meteorites in space. It encounters a huge piece of space debris which figures heavily in the plot later.

passengers-2Jim Preston(Chris Pratt)is one of the passengers who awakens from the induced slumber and finds no one else has. He interacts with the ship’s systems and discovers that a malfunction has awakened him early and the ship still has 90 years to travel before it reaches its destination. Jim ambles around and encounters an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) who helps him keep a grip on loneliness until he finds another sleeping passenger named Aurora Lane(Jennifer Lawrence).

Jim agonizes over her, we eventually find out, for a whole year before waking her up for his own selfish needs, knowing that by doing so he basically ends her life prematurely. Jim and Aurora develop a friendship, then a romance, before she finds out Jim awakened her and grows to dislike him for it. Jim tries all sorts of tricks to win her back. About this time, several of the Avalon’s systems malfunction, and a crew member,Gus Mancuso(Laurence Fishbourne) also awakens.

Together, they figure out that something is causing the ship to malfunction, but it turns out Gus is ill and dying. In fact, he dies before the problem is found, which turns out to be a piece of the huge space rock that crashed in the Avalon at the film’s beginning.  Jim and Aurora have to fix it themselves,  which involves a highly dangerous extravehicular trip that costs Jim his life, although Aurora uses the ship’s robotic doctor to revive him.

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Jim figures out a way to get Aurora back into suspended animation to finish the trip, but as the film ends we discover that she opted not to do that and made a life for themselves on the ship as the crew awakens when the Avalon nears the Homestead Planet 88 years later. Passengers,uses a sharp, credible script to work in the heavy, gee-whiz special effects in what turns out to be a formulaic romantic story on steroids that is highly enjoyable.

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