If it feels like we are entering a golden era of sci-fi, it's because we are. Whether it's actually happening or not, the general perception these days is that the world is going to shit in a shopping cart. And when that happens, people look to the future, to fiction, and to fantasy. Also, CGI has come a long way in the last decade, if you can imagine it you can put it on the screen.
The latest sci-fi flick to hit the silver screen is Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Side note: You know you been writing a movie column a long time when you can spell "Gyllenhaal" straight off the dome. We're deep into the 14th year of "Notes from the Back Row" and I'd like to thank my loyal fans out there for what's been a good run so far. Thanks also to those loyal haters who read this space every week in search of something to piss them off. I don't know why anyone would do that, but I'll take it. Like it or not, writing is art. And if I'm not pissing someone off, I'm doing it wrong.
In any case, Life opens this week and Gyllenhaal stars as the leader of a six-person space station crew who heroically reel in a returning scientific Mars pod and discover some kind of living organism. Things go south from there, this is a 14A-rated monster thriller after all, and Life ends up being a pretty fun mashup of Aliens, The Thing, and Gravity.
Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson pad out the solid cast, but the real star of this one is the creature. This this is not a Predator, Alien or even an Ice Pirates space herpe — it simply wants to survive, by any means necessary. Which makes the "villain" kind of relatable even as it decimates the crew. Life is fun, the first half especially, and as real space exploration continues to push deeper, it's good that we're telling these kinds of stories/cautionary tales now. As rough as things are going here on Mother Earth, there remains a very strong possibility that we might be better off alone.
Also opening this week at the Whistler Village 8, Power Rangers —another big-budget remake no one asked for and fewer people want to see. Hollywood is evolving out of the comic book era, but it's still banking on cheap nostalgia, but not that cheap — this ridiculous-looking Power Rangers movie cost a reported $105 million (and apparently starts off with a joke about a teenage boy jerking off a bull?!).
The original 1993 American Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show is significant because it is one of the first mass-culture remixes — it took action sequences from a Japanese show and cut in new dramatic bits starring multiracial cast of American teens (also a significant cultural step forward).
Sadly, this over-priced remake doesn't capitalize on any of that DIY charm or the Godzilla-style carboard-box-city battles of the original. Instead, it snatches the low-hanging fruit of tepid gross-out gags, jammed in between huge special effects. Sadly, that doesn't leave much to get excited about, and even less to elevate it beyond all the other effects-driven spectacle flicks of our current cinematic landscape. As well, it's 124 minutes long. Skip this at all costs, it's too rude for little kids, not funny enough for teens, and any self-respecting adult who actually wants to see a two-hour-plus Power Rangers movie had better also be tapped into to an illegal pirate streaming service somewhere. This is garbage.
The Download of the Week is a polar opposite — season two of the BBC's Planet Earth series is available in North America and it is everything you've hoped for and more.
Watch penguins leap into crashing surf and return, bloodied and broken, with fish for their young. Ever wondered what a jaguar vs cayman battle looks like? Or how eagles fight? From the northern tundra to the treetops of Madagascar this series shows us just how totally amazing this planet is.
Featuring the timeless narration of David Attenborough, Planet Earth 2 inspires awe, and hope. It's also perfect argument for doing away with zoos, aquariums and any other facility that keeps animals in cages to help the public "learn" about the natural world. We don't need outer space, we have Planet Earth.