By Robin E. Simmons

NOW PLAYING:

LIFE

The six-member multi-ethnic crew of the International Space Station take delivery of a Martian soil sample only to discover there’s evidence of life on the red planet – a harmless single-celled organism the crew names “Calvin.”  Soon the cell starts growing and turns murderous.  Are you surprised?  Finding life beyond earth is surely one of the most important discoveries in human history.  Unfortunately the crew’s tampering – or is it just curiosity? – with the rapidly evolving cell has unintended consequences, it apparently destroyed or devoured all other life on Mars — but is it really evil?

Co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds well serve the story but there are no new wrinkles to this trapped-in-space iteration of what we have seen before and better.  This “Alien” clone is slick (nice production values) but lifeless.  It’s impossible not to wonder why the Martian life forms depicted in this film have a similar appearance to the tentacle creatures of “Arrival” and the face hugger in the original and still superior “Alien.”  The trailer for Ridley Scott’s hugely anticipated and fast approaching “ALIEN: COVENANT” is actually superior to the entire feature film “LIFE.” I was expecting much more self-aware humor and originality from the two gifted screenwriters (Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick) of “Deadpool.”  


NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:

PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO (1955)

Under appreciated and mostly forgotten today, “Panther Girl of the Kongo” is considered the ultimate Republic movie serial by fans of the genre.  It not only cleverly repurposes a lot of sometimes startling stock footage from the 1941 Republic serial “Jungle Girl,” but also embraces many of the elements most loved about classic serials.   The second-to-last serial made by Republic Pictures, it represents the dusk of the film-going habits of the 1940s and early 1950s.  Still, serious serial fans will recognize classic tropes of this beloved episodic cinematic genre: a fiendish land grab plot, exotic jungle locations (courtesy the Republic backlot), a near comic mad scientist character, resourceful retooling vintage footage, and a no-nonsense absence of any dialogue not explicitly driving the plot forward.  In addition to that, it echoes popular mutant monster moments of 1950s films with the addition of a “giant claw monster” created by the resident mad scientist.

Even audiences unfamiliar with serials can find plenty to enjoy here, namely the strong performance from Phyllis Coates, best known for her portrayal of Lois Lane several years earlier.  In 1951 she played opposite George Reeves in his first Superman performance in the movie “Superman and the Mole-Men.”  Olive Films.  Blu-ray.   


HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (1967)

Writer-director David Swift’s movie adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical features score and original choreography by a pair of legends: Frank Loesser and Bob Fosse.  Gleefully reprising their Broadway roles as a scary-ambitious window cleaner and a befuddled company president are Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee, joined here by Michele Lee, Anthony Teague and Maureen Arthur in this entertainingly vicious take on big business.  Seen in the light of today’s political climate, there are many satisfying moments of pointed and savage satire.  The extras include two wonderful and recently recorded conversations with Morse and Lee.  This title is a limited edition of only 3,000 units.  They will sell out quickly.  For more info go to: screenarchives.com  Twilight Time Movies.  Blu-ray.

Comments?  robinesimmons@aol.com

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