QUICK MOVIE REVIEWS: EXTINCTION and BRIGHTBURN

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Figure 1 – USS Twining (DD-540) in 1969

I know, you’re asking why there’s a picture of a US Navy warship here instead of something SF/F related, right? Well, there actually is an SF/F connection here. This is the ship I spent three years on from 1966-1969 as a Radioman Third Class. I’m proud of my Navy service, and I was proud to be a Destroyerman. (If you click the link, you’ll find an SF series by Taylor Anderson about a WWII destroyer—like the U.S.S. Twining (DD-540)—that travels in time. But that’s not why I posted the Twining here; it’s here because of a series of odd coincidences that seem to rule my life. (My wife, the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, has been witness to a number of them.)

If you’ve ever watched the History channel series Pawn Stars, you’ll probably be aware of the Harrison family, owners of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. Up until his recent death, the ruler emeritus was Richard Harrison Senior, called “The Old Man” by son Rick, grandson Corey, and friend and employee Chumlee Russell. Personally, I’m not terribly fond of any of the Harrisons, but I won’t air my feelings in this public forum; I watch it because I like to see what kinds of stuff the public bring into the shop. However, it’s the Old Man who figures into this particular coincidence. The other day, while Googling him for some odd reason, I found out that the Old Man, Richard Harrison, served on several ships during his Navy service, which ended in 1975. You guessed it: one of those ships was the Twining. This ship was decommissioned in 1970, shortly after I left Active Duty, and was sold to the Taiwanese Navy. Sadly, some years after, she was scuttled and now serves as an artificial reef somewhere off the coast of Taiwan. And now, back to the SF/F movie reviews.

Figure 2 – Extinction poster

From Netflix, we have a movie with the same name as one I reviewed a couple of years ago starring Matthew Fox, but this is an entirely different movie. If you look at the poster in Figure 2, you’ll see a tagline that says “We were not here first,” and shows a little girl with a teddy bear facing some kind of space vehicle reminiscent of the hunter droid in the Star Wars movie where Han and Luke ride Tauntauns (Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back). An interesting concept, to be sure.
This particular movie stars Michael Peña, who’s been in a lot of movies; in fact, he was the comic relief in both Ant Man and Ant Man and the Wasp, doing a stellar job, IMO, and was also in Battle: Los Angeles and other SF movies. He’s a competent actor, and doesn’t seem to be completely ethnicized—in other words, he’s given roles that have no relationship to his Hispanic heritage. His co-star is Lizzy Caplan, whom you may remember from Cloverfield as the unfortunate young woman who… well, let’s just say that it doesn’t end well for her. She’s also been in a number of SF/F TV shows like Smallville, Tru Calling, True Blood, and Castle Rock. The only other actor I really recognized was Mike Colter, who played Luke Cage in the short-lived Marvel TV series. (It kinda went off the rails in the last couple of episodes, but I was really sorry to see it go.)

Figure 3 – Lizzy Kaplan in Extinction

Peter (Peña) and his wife Alice (Caplan) have a daughter, Hanna (Amelia Crouch). Peter works in a factory under David (Coulter), where he has a somewhat repetitive job. His problem is he has apocalyptic dreams that he’s convinced are premonitions. Lack of sleep is affecting his job as well as his relationships with his wife and children. He keeps seeing devastation, people being shot, children trying to wake dead parents up… and his wife is convinced he needs professional help; she finally convinces him to get some.
This movie sets itself up as an “alien invasion” film; and it succeeds pretty well on those terms. There is a twist, however, and I won’t spoil it by telling you what it is. I thought it was a clever twist, but part of the movie doesn’t work for me, because the characters don’t seem to act in a very smart way… first of all, the daughter, who has a stuffed monkey named “Herman” that she endangers herself and everyone trying to get it, until she forgets it entirely. The twist is not as devastating as was the one in The Sixth Sense, because I could watch this again. Not so for the latter film.
There are a number of other quibbles about the writing, but overall I thought it was pretty good, especially the twist, which I didn’t see coming. I’d give it a solid three out of five flibbets.¤¤¤

Figure 4 – Brightburn poster

Okay, on to Brightburn, which has a tagline that’s kind of a spoiler for the movie. “What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?”
Picture this: a young farm couple in Kansas desperately desire a child, but have been unable to conceive. One night a meteor hits near the farm, but when they go to the crash site, they discover that it’s really a spaceship, and there’s a child inside it? Does that ring any bells? No, the family’s not named “Kent,” and it’s not Smallville. The town is Brightburn, KS, and the couple are Kyle and Tori Breyer, played respectively, by David Denman and Elizabeth Banks. Banks you probably know well, especially from her stints in the Hunger Games films; Denman maybe less so, unless you’ve seen The Gift, with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall or several non-genre films. They are joined (when he grows up) by their adoptive son, Brandon (played by Jackson A. Dunn, whom you might have seen very briefly in Avengers: Endgame, where he plays—momentarily—a young Scott Lang).

Figure 5 – Elizabeth Banks finds baby

So we have the premise that this kid is a “strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” as the intro to the 1950s’ Superman TV show used to say. But thanks to the tagline on the poster, we’re not sure whether he will be the Superman or what. The premise is partially fulfilled—I’m not going to say enough for (I hope) a spoiler—but only partially. The ending was particularly unsuccessful; as if they didn’t really know how to end it. The acting was generally good; Banks as you know is a pretty good actor, although she generally had what I would consider clichéd lines for the most part. Denman’s character was really not well developed. He was jerked hither and yon by the demands of the script.
The best acting—as it should be—was by Dunn as Brandon. In the beginning of the film he’s a fairly normal 12-year-old (he has a birthday party while we watch), but he changes throughout the movie. My only quibble is that he changes too quickly… how much of that change is due to hormones (most children reaching puberty can have significant emotional change), and how much due to his alien heritage. That question is never answered. I found the movie vaguely unsatisfying. I’ll be generous and give it two flibbets: ¤¤.
Comments on my column are welcome. You can register and comment here, or on my Facebook page, or in the Facebook I link to. All your comments, good or bad, positive or negative, are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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