The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

LIFE - An Old Trope in Sci-Fi Set Aboard The ISS - Not Great But Worth Seeing Once


I never saw an ad or preview for this film. I also know that it did not play in either of the two local theaters in the town where I live, so this film was completely off my radar. I actually didn’t learn anything about it until my wife found it advertised on sale in an ad for a local department store so I had her pick up the BluRay.

Life is a rehashing of an age-old trope in science fiction of a crew being trapped in a confined place with a malevolent alien stalking them. They more or less get picked off one at a time until there is only one survivor. While there is not a lot new in the story, which for the most part is extremely predictable, there are some aspects that, in my opinion, make this film worth a look if you can find it in a Red Box, on a streaming service, or by waiting until it is in the $5 bin at a local department store. Judging from the ratings I have seen, it shouldn’t be a long wait.

The story is set mostly aboard the International Space Station with a crew of six.  There are two crewmembers from the US, two from the UK, one from Japan, and one from Russia. In the opening scene, an unmanned vehicle returning from Mars could possibly be delivering evidence of extraterrestrial life on board. The probe is damaged when it passes through an asteroid field and is unable to be guided back to its appointed landing place, wherever that might have been. As it works out, the crew of the ISS are able to capture the probe before it either burns up in the atmosphere or goes skipping off into interplanetary space.

A scientist aboard the ISS then finds and revives a single-celled organism which begins to multiply into a multi-celled life form. The crew of the space station goes on television with a classroom full of kids who give the name “Calvin” to the creature which is how it is referred for the rest of the film. Calvin goes dormant again when there is an atmospheric accident aboard the station and the scientist decides that he will try to revive the creature with a mild electric shock. While this does indeed revive Calvin, it also apparently angers it and it attacks the scientist and kills another crewmember that tries to rescue the scientist.

For most of the rest of the film, Calvin continues to kill crewmembers, and there is no way to inform ground crews because communications are cut off by a malfunction of station systems. At the same time, Calvin grows rapidly as it kills and consumes crewmembers. The remaining crew try to push the creature into deep space by using the station's thrusters when Calvin tries to re-enter the station through the thruster ports, but all this does is cause the station to fall into a decaying orbit.

The crew had managed to get a distress call off before the comms system went off line and the response from ground crews is to send an unmanned Soyuz craft to push the station out into deep space and prevent Calvin from landing on Earth. The two remaining crew members of the station decide they cannot allow the virtually indestructible Calvin to reach the planet and they use two escape pods (that do not actually exist on the real ISS) to escape, but one crew member decides to sacrifice himself by luring Calvin into his pod and launching it into deep space while the other is to return to Earth to explain what has transpired aboard the doomed station.

Both pods are launched at the same time. One is thrown off course when it hits some debris and careens off into deep space while the other performs a controlled re-entry from the station, splashing down near two Vietnamese fishermen in a boat.  As it turns out, it is the pod with Calvin aboard that splashes down and is opened by the unaware fishermen, thus releasing the organism on the planet.

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite predictable. As a matter of fact, my thirteen year-old daughter knew that the pod that landed in the ocean would contain Calvin.  But beyond the story, there is much in this film to be admired and appreciated.

First of all, the performances of the cast as astronauts aboard the ISS are quite convincing. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about astronaut training, but I do know that they are trained to deal with problems that arise without panicking, rather they are trained to analyze the problem, find a solution and execute. That is exactly what the crew on the ISS in Life try to do, but as it is a film, the odds are against them from the beginning and with the nature of the creature that they are facing, there is no amount of training that will help them deal with the danger.

When on board the ISS, astronauts move from one place to another by pulling themselves along rails and other handholds that give them a good start then they basically fly from one place to another. Those aboard the ISS call this “translating.” As I watched the film, I was impressed with how smoothly astronauts moved from one place to another and wondered how it was done. Well, they used wires to fly the actors from one place to another on a station that was made up largely a green screen background and a few items that the crew had to interact with, and the film had a nearly authentic look to it. I have watch a lot of NASA TV and the behaviors of the Life actors was very much like what I have seen on NASA’s service. When the astronauts on the station are still in the movie, they are still moving in the micro-gravity environment of low Earth orbit and they are never really still, rather they kind of bob up and down a bit. I would have to say that there was a lot of time and effort that went into making this film as authentic as possible.

One of the things that I thought was unfortunate about the film is that I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There was really nothing that endeared them to me and I didn’t really care whether Calvin killed them or not; they were quite one-dimensional. So, as one can note from my synopsis, I cannot really recall any of the character’s names and no one special comes to mind. Not even the character who decided to sacrifice himself at the end to save his fellow crewmate, and also to save the planet from a relentless entity.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the film in spite of the shallow handling of the trope (people versus a malicious alien in a confined space) and the lack of depth of the characters. The sets and the performances of the actors themselves made it a fun film to watch with the positives slightly outweighing the negatives.

Well, there it is…


Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Saturday, August 5, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes - A Great End To Caesar's Story

War for the Planet of the Apes

*** Spoiler Alert ***

There is absolutely no doubt that we are in an age of movie-making that is loaded with prequels, sequels, and reboots. Sometimes, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes they become quite tiresome. War for the Planet of the Apes (or simply War as I will refer to it for the remainder of this article) is the third installment of a reboot series  that began with Dawn of the… and Rise of the…  This reboot series is anything but tiresome and I found myself looking forward to this film since it was announced, and was not disappointed in the slightest with what I got for my wait.

Caesar, the first ape to possess human-like intelligence has solidified his leadership of his band of apes. They seem to have carved out a decent life for themselves in a forest away from humans. The escalation of the Simian Flu, a virus that happened as a result of a scientist’s efforts to cure Alzheimer’s Disease, subsequently infected and killed billions of humans. However there are still small pockets of humans left here and there. One such group is a rogue paramilitary organization calling themselves Alpha-Omega, or AO for short.

When AO attacks Caesar’s colony, there is a pitched battle and it is discovered that there are apes helping AO who were part of a group that opposed Caesar before. Caesar’s troops manage to capture the AO soldiers and a renegade ape named Red. After questioning, Caesar releases the humans as a sign of goodwill with a message that he and his kind just want to be left alone. Caesar then decides that their location is no longer safe and decides to relocate his colony. Before the apes can move, the leader of AO, known as the Colonel, leads a raid on the ape camp that leaves Caesar’s wife and oldest son dead.

Caesar decides to take revenge against AO so, along with a couple of his most trusted lieutenants, head off in search of the AO camp which is somewhere near the border. Along the way, Caesar kills a soldier living in an abandoned village with his mute daughter who turns out to be quite a bit of help. Caesar is also joined by a chimp who calls himself “Bad Ape,” also quite a bit of help as the plot progresses.

Upon arrival at the AO camp, Caesar discovers that his group of apes were captured and are being used as slave labor to build a giant wall. The Colonel believes this wall will help him defeat a group of Regular Army soldiers that are coming after him. The regulars are after the Colonel because he is killing any humans that are infected with the Simian Flu. After Caesar has been tortured and starved, he manages to escape with the help of mute girl along with Bad Ape. While the other apes in Caesar’s group escape their confinement, Caesar goes to confront the Colonel, whom it turns out has been infected with the Simian Flu and commits suicide.

The Regular Army soldiers arrive and there is a pitched battle between the two groups. Caesar joins the battle and is wounded, but still manages to set off an explosion that wipes out the AO, and allows the Regulars to win the battle. The explosion also sets off a massive avalanche of the snow in the surrounding mountains that buries what is left of the AO camp as well as the Regulars.  Caesar and his ape troop, along with Nova escape by climbing trees.

The remaining apes cross the desert and find a peaceful place near a lake where they begin to set up camp. In the closing scenes, Caesar dies with the promise that his remaining son, Cornelius, will know what Caesar has done.

War is a film that I like for many reasons.  The story is easy to follow it is rounds out the series as it is so far in a great way. Along with the first two films in the reboot, Rise and Dawn, we get a complete picture of the events that led up to the first Planet of the Apes (1968) film. One can imagine how the events of the first film may have transpired with apes learning how to use human language and how Caesar became a legend.

What I like most about War and the previous two films is how the CGI added so much to how the apes communicate with the audience, not through language, but rather through the expressiveness in the body language of the ape characters and especially in the facial expression. Often times, the look on an actor’s face, at least one who knows how to show their emotions rather than just read lines, can say so much more in just a few seconds than an entire page of dialog. Sir Lawrence Olivier was a master of this technique (I would refer you to his performance in Spartacus (1960) as an example). It would seem that the artists responsible for doing the CGI work on War understand this technique very well. There are numerous instances where one can read exactly what is on one of the ape character’s mind when there is a closeup shot.  Along with that is the body language of the ape characters. I would have to guess that Matt Reeves (Director), Andy Sirkis (Caesar), as well as the Visual Effects people (and there is a small army of those) did their homework well to make this film feel real.  Honestly, while I was immersed in viewing War, I found myself completely suspending disbelief and was totally taken in by the ape’s character personas.

Another aspect of War (as well as Dawn of...) is the film’s score composed by Michael Giacchino. It is so good and fits so well that the music is almost another character in the film. Strong when it is supposed to be, and poignant in the right places, it add so much to the film. Giacchino is nothing less than a genius.

War for the Planet of the Apes rounds out the trilogy that is the story of Caesar and how the Apes took over the Earth brilliantly. I have always been a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise in all it’s forms; this series of films reaffirms that and leaves something to look forward to should it be carried on to future installments.

Well, there it is…