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On this page, I will periodically post reviews of movies I have seen. The first seven reviews are a selection which I wrote for UFO DATA Magazine.

Contents

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The Objective

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Night Skies

Unidentified

10,000BC

The Invasion

Rubber

Click For Page 2

Click For Page 3

Click For Page 4

The X-Files:

I Want To Believe

 

One of the most influential television series of the Nineties, The X-Files ran for nine seasons and terrified and excited viewers the world over. Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) became household names, the series won numerous awards and it entered the global mindset like no production since Star Trek.

In 1998, the first movie to be spawned by the franchise, The X-Files: Fight the Future (or sometimes called simply The X-Files Movie), was released. It did reasonably well, grossing about $190 million. Set between seasons five and six, the first film was firmly planted within X-Files lore and although you didn’t need to know the series to understand the plot, being familiar with the alien black oil storyline was definitely in your favour. This was a big movie, with action set-pieces and a spectacular climax culminating with a giant spacecraft rising out of the Antarctic ice.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe could not be further from the first film. With a production budget of less than half the first film this certainly was not going to be a sci-fi spectacular to rival the other blockbusters of 2008, such as Iron Man or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. No, what Chris Carter (who also directed) and co-writer, Frank Spotnitz have created is an intimate story about a couple coming to terms with not being the people they once were.

So let’s get down to it. There are spoilers here, folks, so if you don’t want to know what happens, skip to the end now. Gone? Okay, here goes.

The movie opens with FBI agents searching a snowy landscape, aided by Billy Connolly’s (in an excellent performance) Father Joseph Crissman. Joseph, it seems is having psychic intuitions about the disappearance of a female federal agent and he leads the G-Men to a spot where an arm is discovered. It’s not the arm of the missing agent, however.

The FBI contact former agent Dana Scully, who is now working in a catholic hospital and she is obsessed with saving a young boy from a seemingly incurable disease. They ask her to bring in Fox Mulder, her life partner (unmarried), and he grudgingly accepts when it is explained to him that the Bureau will drop any charges they have against him following the conclusion of the TV series.

Dragging Scully along, Mulder meets Crissman and we learn that he is a convicted paedophile, something that horrifies all of us, but Scully in particular.

The plot unfolds that what we are dealing with is an illegal medical facility (protected by vicious, two-headed dogs!), operated by Russians who are going round, kidnapping people and chopping them up to keep some old Russian geezer alive with some experimental surgery based around stem cells and stuff. Scully sussed this bit out while researching (on the internet!) about a cure for her dying child patient. Handy, eh?

While Scully drops out of the investigation, preferring to care for her patient, Mulder goes deeper and is eventually driven off the road by the main baddie, Janke Dacyshyn (Callum Keith Rennie). Left for dead, Mulder staggers out of the wreck and ends up stumbling across the illegal medical facility.

Meanwhile, Scully can’t contact Mulder, so she calls in a familiar face to help (everybody goes, “Yay!” at this point). They track down the bad guys, save Mulder in the nick of time and put a stop to all the goings-on.

That’s a very potted version of the script and, as I said earlier, the story is less about the bad guys and the paranormal and more to do with Mulder and Scully not being FBI agents any longer and their personal relationship.

While I largely enjoyed the film, I completely understand the other reviews I’ve read that complain about the film being more like an extended episode of the series (and not one of the better episode either!). The movie plodded along and more than once I checked the time to see how long it had to go. Not a good sign. But it wasn’t a bad film. Nor was it a particularly good one, though. Knowing it was an X-Files film and the screen presences of Duchovny and Anderson were the only things that kept it afloat, in my opinion. There were few references to the series, except a reference to Mulder’s missing/dead sister and the ‘guest star’, and I felt this was done to make it more accessible to those not familiar with the nine seasons that had gone previously. For a fan, though, this felt a little like a betrayal. No mention of Mulder and Scully’s son (unless you count a slight watering of Scully’s eyes when she is told that she isn’t a mother by the parents of the young boy in hospital), no mention of agents Doggett and Reyes and only one mention of aliens and that was used in a jokey manner against Mulder by another agent.

So, while I recommend the film, I must add that there are many better episodes of the series and this film does not have the epic feel of the first movie. Could have been better. Should have been better.

© Steve JC Johnson

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Unidentified

 

My brother has a notorious bad taste for movies, so when he recommends a film to me, I generally roll my eyes and brace myself for a couple of hours of celluloid hell. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bad movie as much as the next man, but there are some flicks that just make me shudder. The recent smash-hit, Transformers, is one such film. For some reason, critics heaped huge amounts of praise on this steaming pile of turgid nonsense and it has done the business at the box office, but I absolutely hated it. It was a terrible, incoherent, headache-inducing special effects extravaganza in which the adage of ‘less is more’ was completely thrown out of the window.

But this review isn’t about Transformers, it’s about Unidentified. Released on Region 1 DVD earlier this year, Unidentified begins as an interesting UFO/abduction story. A man’s truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere and a light from the sky beams down. A group of teenagers are camping nearby and also see the glowing object in the clouds. The man’s story makes the local news media and the popular magazine, Both Sides, decides to send a couple of their reporters to investigate.

So far, so good.

Ah, but all is not as it seems with this movie. Early on, we are given a glimpse of what really lies behind this tale of ‘alien intervention’. A couple of references to the Bible and the odd, lingering shot on the good book are signposts of what is to come.

Anyway, back to the plot, such as it is. The two reporters, Keith and Brad (Keith is the open-minded one and Brad is the sceptic – the mag is called Both Sides, remember?) arrive in the small, Texas town and find that the people who saw the UFO are not willing to talk. Apparently, Men-In-Black have been and warned them off. Then another incident happens in Louisiana, so off they toddle and again find a wall of silence. Meanwhile, Keith has been contacted by an elderly chap who claims to have been part of a covert agency in his youth, an agency that investigated alien influences on Earth. He quit when he found the ‘true, spiritual nature’ of the phenomena and became a Christian.

The guys’ next lead is local and this time, their buddy and co-worker, Darren, tags along. Darren is very, very religious.  He makes the Pope seem like a casual church-goer. They meet a young woman, who saw a UFO and is also interested in the paranormal. Darren goes into a lengthy rant about how UFOs are the work of the Devil and only accepting Jesus can save you. Ooh, that was kinda creepy.

Back at the office, there’s a big meeting and Darren reaffirms his religious convictions (he does it a lot) and Brad (the sceptic, remember) takes umbrage, declaring that there’s no Heaven or Hell. Keith is going through something of a Christian tug-of-war. He is skipping Bible study and it’s placing a strain on his marriage. Luckily for him, Darren brings him round by saying you’re either with Christ or against him (strangely Bush-like viewpoint, don’t you think?) and he accepts Jesus again. Hurray for Keith!

Meanwhile, Brad is sussing out how people who perpetuate the popularity of UFOs (those who organise conferences, for instance) actually do it for the money. Ergo, it’s all a big cash cow with nothing behind it except exploiting people’s beliefs for monetary gain. Hmmm…

The gang trek back to Texas and meet the first chap who saw the UFO. Darren is horrified when he finds out the guy’s wife is a Wiccan. He convinces him that he should believe in Jesus again and the guy sagely nods his head. Good old Darren’s two for two so far!

The magazine comes out and it’s a huge hit, selling out almost immediately.

The old man turns up at the office and explains how we are living in the End Days. Soon there will be the Rapture, when the righteous will be taken to Heaven. He says that the Devil knows this, so he appears in the form of aliens in an effort to deceive people and prevent them from accepting Christ. The universe exists solely to demonstrate God’s wonders and there’s only life on Earth.  He uses the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds as an example of how easily people can believe something that isn’t true. Hmmm again…

The movie wraps up with reports of people vanishing all over the world. Phones at the office are ringing off the hook and the staff are panicking. Keith and Darren have also vanished. It’s the Rapture! Brad runs around like a headless chicken after returning from the local sandwich shop with drinks. He cannot believe what’s going on. Was all that Bible stuff true after all?

Then everybody starts laughing and Darren and Keith turn up. It was all a joke on the resident sceptic. Big laugh!

Basically, this is a film about belief. You can choose to believe in God and Jesus. You can choose to believe in other faiths, Wicca for example. You can choose to believe in UFOs and aliens. That would have been fine had the filmmakers not shoved the entire Christian ethic down our throats, demanding faith in Jesus or suffer an eternity of damnation.

With the base of operations for the film being a magazine called Both Sides, the movie takes a remarkably one-sided view of the subjects it tackles. The Christians are all smiling, happy folk, content in the knowledge that their faith has saved them, while everybody else is depicted in a darker light. Sceptics are bitter and sarcastic; UFO enthusiasts are only in it for the money; a belief in the paranormal is frowned upon.

We can’t believe in UFOs or aliens because there’s no proof that they exist, according to Darren, but the movie fails to mention that there is no proof that God or Jesus exist either. All Darren needed was the Bible. “Read it for yourself,” he said. That’s fair enough and I whole-heartedly respect anybody’s religious or spiritual views or beliefs, but maybe the producers of this movie should have read more about UFOs before using them to promote their own religious agenda.

If you want a sermon about how UFOs are the work of the Devil, then this is the movie for you, but if you want to watch an entertaining film about the UFO phenomenon, then Unidentified is not worth watching. It’s a shame because it all begins so well…

If you want to check it out, there a website: http://www.unidentifiedthemovie.com (Thanks to Marie for the heads-up on the link).

© Steve JC Johnson

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The Objective

 

Well, my brother’s done it again! I don’t know how he finds these films, but he told me about a movie called The Objective and that ‘I would like it’. He was right.

He didn’t spill the beans about the plot, except to say that it was set in Afghanistan and was directed by one of the chaps that did The Blair Witch Project. I loved Blair Witch, so I had high hopes for this $8 million film. I was not disappointed. So what’s it all about?

Set in Afghanistan in November, 2001, the story follows CIA agent Benjamin Keynes (Jonas Ball), who is sent on a secret mission, along with a squad of Special Forces soldiers, into ‘The Sacred Mountains’ to find an anomalous object that had been spotted by a reconnaissance satellite. Early on, we are given a hint about what to expect when Keynes enters a shrine with a painting of an object like the one found on the 14th century fresco from the Visoki Decani Monestary in the former Yugoslavia. He also finds an artifact reminiscent of the golden ‘aircraft’ from ancient Colombia.

Enlisting the help of local guide, Abdul (Chems-Eddine Zinoune), the men drive out into the harsh, mountainous wilderness. Almost immediately, the group is attacked by Afghan tribesmen and one of their comrades is killed. The soldiers kill at least one of their attackers and drive them away, but on securing the area, they can find no sign of any bodies.

Thus begins the squad’s descent into high-strangeness. On their journey, they encounter strange lights in the sky, ghostly figures, odd noises and all sorts of bizarre phenomena. The grizzled soldiers are steadily whittled down until we find the reason for Keynes’ mission – to find a vimaana. Vimaanas were aircraft described in ancient Indian texts. Some were huge and could deploy devastating weapons that laid waste to entire regions.

The film shies away from directly explaining where the vimaanas come from, making them enigmatic and mysterious, although their similarities to UFOs are mentioned.

The climax of the film is bizarre and confusing, but it is meant to be. The men are dealing with something beyond the ken of mere humans. How can we hope to understand something that has eluded mankind for thousands of years in the space of a 90-minute movie?

I thought The Objective was terrific. The acting was good, the Award-winning cinematography by Stephanie Martin was stunningly beautiful and the special effects, while simple, were adequate and enhanced the story rather than being the story.

The movie is available on DVD and blu-ray and the movie’s official website can be found at www.objectivemovie.com.

© Steve JC Johnson

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10,000 BC

 

In 1994, director, Roland Emmerich, and producer, Dean Devlin, brought us a movie called Stargate. It was a great success, taking over $200 million worldwide and spawning several TV series. Later, after several more blockbusters such as Independence Day and Godzilla, the team parted ways and went on to do other things. Emmerich seems to have become obsessed with disasters on a global scale, with The Day After Tomorrow showing us what the dawn of a new ice age might look like and his last feature, 2012, being about the end of the Mayan calendar and the problems that may bring.

This year, Emmerich co-wrote and directed 10,000 BC, a $100 million blockbuster that seemingly continues what he began with Stargate. In fact, while I watched it, I constantly thought of it as a kind of prequel to that movie, a kind of Stargate Zero, if you will.

Set in the epoch of twelve thousand years ago, the story focuses on a group of Ice Age hunters, the Yagahl. Their speciality is hunting the mammoths that frequently crossed their land. Unfortunately, the Ice Age is ending and mammoths are becoming scarcer. One day, a girl is brought into their village. She has blue eyes and tells of demons with four legs coming and murdering or capturing her people. The Yaghal take Evolet in and she grows up to fall in love with a young hunter called D’leh.

When the marauders that decimated her village arrive and capture or kill many of the Yagahl, taking away Evolet and several others, D’leh and his mentor, Tic’Tic, set off to rescue them.

Along the way, they pass from the icy wastes of the Yagahl homeland, through lush jungle and into arid, deserts. Adventure ensues as we are finally brought to the home of the marauders, (very) Ancient Egypt. Huge pyramids are being constructed and the captured natives are used as slave labour by the Almighty. Great ramps stretch out into the desert and mammoths haul blocks of stone while slave drivers whip the thousands of workers into submission or sacrifice them to their god.

To free his friends, D’leh must inspire an uprising and defeat the evil taskmasters and their ancient, mummy-like deity.

There are several great set-piece action sequences, including a mammoth hunt, a battle against fierce terror birds (phororhacos, if I’m not mistaken), a sequence with a huge sabre-tooth cat and the final battle against the pyramid builders. I thought it was terrific fun.

It’s obvious that 10,000 BC borrowed heavily from the work of researchers such as John Anthony West, Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock, as did Stargate. West maintains that the Sphinx is thousands of years older than Egyptologists tell us, while Hancock and Bauval suggest that the Giza pyramids are laid out to commemorate an epoch going back to around 10,000 BC. The three main pyramids at Giza resemble the belt stars of the constellation of Orion the Hunter and Orion plays a major role in both this movie and Stargate.

The movie has been criticized for being historically inaccurate. When I read comments like that about this kind of movie, I cannot help but laugh out loud. It’s an adventure story, not a historical document and isn’t meant to be accurate! It’s like suggesting that The Mummy was supposed to be historically accurate, when it wasn’t. Sure, the writers and production designers try and make these sorts of movies look somewhat authentic, but it is the story that drives the picture, not the sets and costumes.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Emmerich intended this movie to show what might have happened after Ra from the Stargate movie was defeated and left Earth. The void left by Ra was filled by despots, who took over as ‘gods’ and began building the pyramids in memory of the evil extra-terrestrial’s huge pyramid starship. Unlike Ra, they could not regenerate themselves, so they grew old and died, leaving only one remaining. With the aliens and their technology gone, they had to use what they had to build these edifices and that meant lots and lots of slaves. Thousands of years later, the pharaohs of Egypt completed the pyramids and continually restored the Great Sphinx (which is also seen briefly from a distance in the film).

That’s my take on it anyway. I’m probably completely wrong, but it’s fun to speculate.

All-in-all, I enjoyed 10,000 BC and I look forward to what blockbusters Roland Emmerich can deliver in the future.

© Steve JC Johnson

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 (written at the time of the theatrical release)

Nineteen years ago, Indiana Jones rode off into the sunset at the end of what we thought would be his final adventure. The three films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, helped propel Harrison Ford into mega stardom after his stint as Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy had ended. Now he is back, older, wiser, but still providing whip-cracking, rip-roaring adventure on a scale most movies cannot even approach.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (phew) opened in the UK on Thursday, May 22nd, 2008, and I just had to see it. The media hype has been similar to that of the return of George Lucas’ other project back in 1999. Back then, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace sent fans into a frenzy of anticipation, but, ultimately, many were left disappointed, feeling the new trilogy didn’t have the magic of the originals. Would Lucas and director, Steven Spielberg, be able to recapture the spirit of Indy’s original adventures?

This review will feature many spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now. For those who want to know the plot, here it is:

We begin in Nevada in 1957, twenty years after the incidents of The Last Crusade. Indy (Harrison Ford) and his partner, Mac (Ray Winstone), have been captured by Soviet agents, led by Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett). These agents have tricked their way into a Nevada test site known as Hangar 51, an obvious forebear of Area 51 and Groom Lake. Here, hangars full of crates, containing America’s secrets, are the target for Spalko and her goons.

Apparently, Dr Jones had been press-ganged into attending the Roswell crash site in 1947 and something from that incident had been stored at Hangar 51. Indy, under duress and after being betrayed by Mac, helps the Soviets find the crate in question and manages to escape aboard a rocket sled just before being caught up in a nuclear test. They certainly don’t make fridges like they used to – you’ll see what I mean!

Found by the American security agencies, we learn that Jones was with the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, during World War II and earned many medals. We also learn that he was forbidden to speak to anybody about what happened at Roswell. Bailed out by an army buddy (Alan Dale), it is clear that FBI do not think much of Indy. In fact, they put pressure on his college and force him into paid leave. Indy’s boss and successor to Marcus Brody, Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent) was also forced to resign. Here we learn that in the past two years, both Brody (played in the originals by the late Denholm Elliott) and Indy’s father, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) have died.

Before long, though, a young man called Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) pops up and explains that an old friend of Indy’s, Professor Oxley (John Hurt), and his mother, Marion (Karen Allen, but we don’t learn that until later, but it’s easily guessed at), have been kidnapped and forced to find a magical crystal skull.

The rollercoaster begins here as Indy and Mutt head for Peru and the Nazca Lines. Here they find the crystal skull, an elongated, large-eyed thing with magnetic properties, but are almost immediately captured by Spalko and Mac.

Then it’s off down the Amazon, in search of the mythical city of gold, Akator, also known as El Dorado. At camp in the jungle, Spalko reveals to Jones that the skull is not an artefact, but is an actual skull from aliens with crystalline skeletons. She produces a Grey-like alien corpse (which was in the crate from Hangar 51) and opens up the skin on its head to reveal the quartz-like cranium beneath.

Indy and Mutt are reunited with Marion and Oxley (who appears to have gone quite mad) and, of course, they manage to escape with the skull. A huge chase through the jungle ensues, featuring terrific stunts, quick sand, killer ants and numerous waterfalls. Oh, and we fond out that Mutt is Indy’s son.

Eventually, we arrive at Akator and learn that it is a repository for artefacts from all around the world. It seems the aliens were archaeologists themselves. In a deep chamber, thirteen crystalline skeletons, one of them headless, are seated in a circle, facing each other. Before our heroes can replace the skull (it is promised that the person who does this will receive all the power of El Dorado), the Soviets arrive, thanks to Mac again (grrr!).

Spalko takes the skull and plonks it back on the headless skeleton. In a scene reminiscent of the climax of Raiders, all hell breaks loose, with the skeletons coming to life and melding into one, fully-skinned interdimensional alien. Spalko, Mac and the other Russkies all pay for their bad deeds, it seems.

Indy and chums flee the disintegrating chamber as a dimensional portal opens high above them. They get outside just as the ground caves in and a huge, silver flying saucer emerges and vanishes into ‘the space between spaces’ (as described by the now-sane Oxley).

Back home, Indy and Marion are married and all ends well.

So, is the film on a par with the originals? Unfortunately, I would say that it isn’t. While it wipes the floor with most other action-adventures of today, Indy IV (I can’t keep typing the full title without getting finger cramps!), demonstrates, again, George Lucas’ tendency towards ‘more is better’. The plot has everything from aliens to ancient astronauts to psychic spying to government conspiracies and everything in-between. Was it all necessary? Was it in the spirit of Indiana Jones? Not in my estimation. Why introduce aliens into Indy lore at all? I know some of our readers will suggest that this is yet another aspect of UFO Disclosure, and maybe it is.

As an adventure, it’s terrific stuff, but as an Indy picture, something just doesn’t mesh. Sure, all the characters are there. All the action set-pieces are there and most are fantastic to watch. The jungle chase is breath-taking (except when Shia LaBeouf starts swinging, Tarzan-like, on vines amid a host of monkeys) and the opening fight and chase at Hangar 51 is great. It’s all a bit too much at times, though. As I said, Lucas tends towards ‘more is better’ with his franchise resurrections and that’s not what the fans want. They want Indy going against the odds. They want the humour of the character interactions. None of this is present in Indy IV. There’s a spark between Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, but LaBeouf, Winstone, Broadbent and Hurt appear to be there simply to keep up the numbers. Cate Blanchett is excellent as Irina Spalko, conveying sexy menace with much more confidence than Alison Doody in The Last Crusade. Spalko’s main heavy, Colonel Dovchenko (Igor Jijikine), is a clear replacement to the late, great Pat Roach’s baddies from the previous films, but he doesn’t carry it off. Those fist-fights from the earlier movies were great to watch, with Indy usually outwitting his bigger foe, but Ford and Jijikine just stand there and hit each other until one wins.

There are self-referential nods to the other films (references to Brody and Jones Sr., a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant at Hangar 51 etc.), as if Lucas and Spielberg have to keep reminding us that this is an Indiana Jones story.

Despite all my moaning, I did enjoy the film (despite shaking my head at numerous scenes – you’ll know what I mean when you see them) and I think it sits behind Raiders and Crusade, but above Temple of Doom, so it’s not a complete disaster. Far from it, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (ouch), is a great reminder of how films used to be and how adventure films could be in the future.

Before the movie started, there was a trailer for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which opens in August. It will be interesting to see how that film compares with its mega-hyped competitor. Both films had similar budgets - $185 million for Indy IV and $175 million for Mummy IV - so it will be interesting to see which film gives more ‘bang for its buck’.

Update: As it happened the last Mummy film sucked big time!

© Steve JC Johnson

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The Invasion

 

In 1956, a movie based on the novel by Jack Finney was released and became a classic of the science fiction genre. Invasion of the Body Snatchers told the tale of an alien incursion onto our planet, not by overt military action, but by the aliens replicating human beings. Emerging from plant-like pods, these facsimiles were only distinguishable from their human counterparts by their complete lack of emotion. The copies then somehow disposed of their sleeping originals and took over their lives.

Critics have lauded the film as intelligent sci-fi, pointing out that it echoes the dangers of the period, of the spread of communism and the backlash it caused in the United States – the McCarthy era. Coincidentally monikered lead actor, Kevin McCarthy has said that this was not the intention of the movie, but this did little to change people’s minds: Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a grim allegory of 1950s America.

Remade twice, in 1978 and 1993, both newer versions were solid works with the former evoking the mistrust of authority, gleaned from the post-Watergate era, and the latter going for a more familial approach and setting it around a family on a military base.

The ABC television series, Invasion, and the CBS series, Threshold, both produced in 2005 and both cancelled after 22 and 13 episodes respectively, also explored this theme of the loss of identity and the alien hive mind.

October 2007 saw the UK release of The Invasion, the latest update of Jack Finney’s novel and starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. The production was troubled, with the original release put back for a year for rewrites and reshoots. More about these a little later.

Kidman plays Carol Bennell, a psychiatrist in Washington DC, who notices people changing after a space shuttle crash brings an alien virus to Earth. This virus is intelligent and attacks its victims while they sleep, transforming them into emotionless automatons. Doing away with the pods of previous versions, those converted spread the infection by regurgitating slime into the mouths of their victims, a method that reminded me of the Ganglion aliens in the TV series, Dark Skies.

Carol’s ex-husband is one of the first to change and he tries to convert their young son. Thankfully, he appears to be immune to the virus due to a rare strain of chickenpox he contracted a couple of years earlier. Aided by her colleague, Ben (Craig), she must rescue her son from the invaders.

The movie has a terrific sense of dread that, set against the backdrop of the heart of American government, really gnaws at one’s stomach. Written to parallel these current times of fear of the threat of terrorism and the rise of the surveillance society, The Invasion ably conveys the notion that those we seek to protect us can easily become the ones we need protection from.

The original version of this film, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, left the studio bosses feeling unhappy, so they hired the Wachowski Brothers, of The Matrix and V for Vendetta fame to rewrite parts of the script, adding some action scenes and a new ending. New scenes were filmed by director, James McTeigue, who remained uncredited.

While The Invasion garnered less than favourable reviews and, so far, has only made $22 million dollars worldwide for its $65 million budget, I quite enjoyed it. The notion that our society can quickly become something to fear is prevalent these days and this movie captures that sense of foreboding. Those that have been taken over by the alien organism walk around in an impassive daze, not reacting to events around them, reminding the viewer of our current climate of being unwilling or afraid to help those around us. In the film, some of those who have not been affected try to blend in by adopting the emotionless affectations of the invaders, some finding it easier than others. It is a clear indication that many, if not most, in society would rather attempt to fit in to an unsavoury cultural norm, even one that has been artificially created, than struggle against it.

One line from the film struck me. It is uttered by a Russian character, who later dies when he is infected and the transformation goes awry. He said: “Civilisation crumbles whenever we need it most.” A stirring comment for these troubled days.

© Steve SJ Johnson

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Night Skies

 

Released on Region 1 DVD 23rd January, 2007

Distributor: Sony Pictures

Director: Roy Knyrim

Starring: Jason Connery, A.J. Cook, George Stults, Ashley Peldon and Joseph Sikora. Guest appearances by Senator John McCain and Michael Dorn.

 

On the evening of March 13th, 1997, an event would occur that would inspire and divide the UFO community in equal measure. That incident was, of course, The Phoenix Lights.

Many documentaries have been made claiming to have the facts of the case, both for and against the argument that unidentified objects glided over Phoenix, Arizona on that Spring night, ten years ago. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood got in on the act, but that it has taken a decade is possibly a greater mystery than the event itself.

Night Skies claims to be based on a true story. It may very well be based around the sightings of those enigmatic lights in the sky, but the story itself is pure fiction. Do you know what, though? I liked it!

The movie begins at a real-life press conference, in which Senator John McCain is asked about UFOs. He says that he is interested in the subject and mentions the Phoenix Lights incident. We then cut to a young woman, running, screaming, through the woods. Something is obviously after her and, with this scene, we get a flavour of what is to come.

Night Skies isn’t a UFO movie per se, it is a science fiction horror chiller, pretty much like most other popular films of its ilk. We have a group of attractive, young people, who are driving through Arizona in their RV. There are the usual social types among them: the aggressive leader (Matt), the solid and brave heroine (Lilly), the husband and wife comedy duo (Joe and June) and the highly-strung, over-sexed teen (Molly). Of course there is also a ‘name’ star in a cameo role, this instance being Michael Dorn (the Klingon, Worf, in Star Trek: The Next Generation et al)

They see the lights as they traverse the lonely, dusty roads of deepest, darkest Arizona and, with their attention fixed on the gradually-forming arc above them, almost run over Richard (played by Jason Connery – yes, Sean’s lad), who’s pick-up truck has mysteriously conked out in the middle of nowhere. They hit a tree, terminally breaking their camper van. During the crash, Joe somehow manages to get a knife stuck in his shoulder and is bleeding to death.

Oh, no! They’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no first aid kit, no transport, their buddy is losing claret rapidly and now there’s a Will Patton look-alike who may or may not be a nutter. Really, Jason Connery is the spitting image of the Mothman Prophecies and Armageddon star!

Oh and there’s aliens watching them from the woods as well…

What ensues is standard stuff: lots of glimpses of figures flitting about in the trees, lights in the sky and hysterical people going off by themselves to ‘check it out’. Finally, we get to see the aliens and they are pretty good, actually, with the final act being more or less a remake of the Fire in the Sky abduction scenes. Sort of.

Taking the events (okay, taking the video of the arc of lights appearing over the city) and weaving them into a low-budget sci-fi chiller, the producers have created a film that steals beats from many other movies, such as Signs, Fire in the Sky, Predator and The Hills Have Eyes, to name but four.

The film is well-shot and edited, with enough ‘jump out of your seats’ moments to make it worthwhile. The acting is not bad, especially from Connery, who plays a man with a past, that has to come to terms with a terrible mistake, very well. The special effects are not bad for a low-budget movie, even if the aliens are rarely seen in their full glory.

There are some great little shots in the film that made me smile: a star that suddenly moves in the background, the alien silhouetted beside the barbed wire fence, the reflection of the Lights in the RV window and the alien examination in all its shocking glory.

If, like me, you like movies made for peanuts, then Night Skies is well worth a look. Whether or not it is a worthy release to celebrate the tenth anniversary of ufology’s most noted cases is open to debate. A word of warning, however, it is not a family film and there is quite a bit of bad language, sexual references and its fair share of blood-letting.

There is a website for the movie that can be found at http://www.nightskiesmovie.com/

© Steve SJ Johnson

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Rubber

 

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that just has you grinning from ear to ear like a buffoon. Rubber is one of those movies. Written, directed, edited and shot by Quentin Dupieux, it is a surreally-comic film that, from the outset, claims to pay homage to events that happen for no reason.

Enter Robert…

Robert is a car tyre that comes to life for no reason. Instantly deciding that any form of life it comes across must die, Robert embarks on a murderous rampage across the desert, using his psychic powers to explode heads, Scanners-style.

Watching the scenes unfold is a group of ‘spectators’, who believe they are watching a movie, despite using binoculars and there being no screen in sight.

Things come to a head when Robert is cornered in a house (he’s watching NASCAR on TV, naturally) and the authorities resort to a cunning plan.

Rubber is an absolute delight to watch. It is beautifully shot and Robert him/itself is a wonder of engineering or patience – or both. The actors are delightfully deadpan, seemingly relishing the bizarre roles they are playing, particularly the ‘spectators’.

Stephen Spinella plays the lead police officer, who is aware that they are in a movie, and his scenes are terrific. He has a real air of barely-contained lunacy. At one point in the movie, he thinks it’s all over and tries to persuade his fellow cast members to go home and thanks them for their roles, going to extreme lengths to prove his point.

Of the ‘spectators’, Wings Hauser plays a grizzled, old man in a wheelchair. He wears a baseball cap with the proud motif, ‘Classically Trained’. Of all the people watching, he seems to know the true purpose of Jack Plotnick’s The Accountant and his unseen master. Let’s just say, he refuses any food offered to him.

Robert’s scenes, though, are the best. Quite how Dupieux got this inanimate object to project emotion is anybody’s guess, but he does. Despite simply rolling along, stopping, turning, you get a real sense of foreboding as the tyre ‘watches’ his future victims (he has no eyes, you see).

The film is quite gruesome, with heads exploding in showers of bloody spray and also small animals meeting similar fates. All the gore, though, is meted by a script that is just plain potty. I loved it.

And why does all this happen? No reason, of course!

There is a website for the film and it can be found at http://www.rubberthemovie.com/

 

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

 

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Updated 15th March, 2011