Movie Review

What do you get when you take a generous helping of The Fifth Element, a bit of Jupiter Ascending, and throw in a dash of just about every SciFi/Fantasy flick of the last twenty years? You get Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. And I don’t mean that to be derogatory in any way. For years I’ve been lamenting that Hollywood never does anything new and with Valerian it has. I was truly and completely captivated and entertained by this flick and felt it was very much worth the price of admission. How often can you really say that these days?

Certain reviews have labeled it a hot mess, and yes, it’s heavy on special effects—at times almost to the point of being overwhelming—but unlike certain other films (cough, Star Wars prequels, cough) I didn’t feel they detracted from the story. I couldn’t tell were CGI left off and practical effects began; a testament to the degree of technical expertise exhibited in the film. The aliens—as in The Fifth Element—were amazing. The actors’ performances—while not exemplary—were at least convincing, and that’s more than be said for a lot of recent films. This is really one of those movies that deserves to be seen on the big screen—as increasingly unpleasant as that experience has become.

And if nothing else it was a three hour escape from all things Trump.

The soundtrack ain’t bad either…

You Learn Something New Every Day

My longtime friend Michael sent me a copy of They Live (one of our favorite b-movies and something that’s been on my Amazon Wish List forever) for my birthday a couple weeks ago. While watching it the other day I realized that as much of a favorite as it is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire thing from beginning to end—or that I just didn’t remember all of it. (Just as likely.)

Ben had never seen it before, but he was not impressed when he did. “It’s awful!” To which I responded, “That’s part of it’s charm!”

Anyhow, I did a quick internet search to see if I could find any info on the film beyond the basics, and imagine my surprise when I discovered after all these years that the entire premise of the movie was based off a short story called Eight O’Clock In The Morning by Ray Nelseon.

Since it’s apparently in the public domain and can be found in its entirety on multiple websites, I’m gonna go ahead and pass it on here for your edification. It’s a rather short read, but as one site said, “Even though it’s supposed to be a work of science fiction, the story holds many analogies to our current situation.” More than ever, I’d say.

So without further ado, I present:

Eight O’Clock in the Morning

by Ray Nelseon

At the end of the show the hypnotist told his subjects, “Awake.”

Something unusual happened.

One of the subjects awoke all the way. This had never happened before. His name was George Nada and he blinked out at the sea of faces in the theatre, at first unaware of anything out of the ordinary. Then he noticed, spotted here and there in the crowd, the non-human faces, the faces of the Fascinators. They had been there all along, of course, but only George was really awake, so only George recognized them for what they were. He understood everything in a flash, including the fact that if he were to give any outward sign, the Fascinators would instantly command him to return to his former state, and he would obey.

He left the theatre, pushing out into the neon night, carefully avoiding any indication that he saw the green, reptilian flesh or the multiple yellow eyes of the rulers of the earth. One of them asked him, “Got a light buddy?” George gave him a light, then moved on.

At intervals along the street George saw the posters hanging with photographs of the Fascinators’ multiple eyes and various commands printed under them, such as, “Work eight hours, play eight hours, sleept eight hours,” and “Marry and Reproduce.” A TV set in the window of a store caught George’s eye, but he looked away in the nick of time. When he didn’t look at the Fascinator in the screen, he could resist the command, “Stay tuned to this station.”

George lived alone in a little sleeping room, and as soon as he got home, the first thing he did was to disconnect the TV set. In other rooms he could hear the TV sets of his neighbors, though. Most of the time the voices were human, but now and then he heard the arrogant, strangely bird-like croaks of the aliens. “Obey the government,” said one croak. “We are the government, ” said another. “We are your friends, you’d do anything for a friend, wouldn’t you?”

“Obey!”

“Work!”

Suddenly the phone rang.

George picked it up. It was one of the Fascinators.

“Hello,” it squawked. “This is your control, Chief of Police Robinson. You are an old man, George Nada. Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, your heart will stop. Please repeat.”

“I am an old man,” said George. “Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, my heart will stop.”

The control hung up

“No, it wont,” whispered George. He wondered why they wanted him dead. Did they suspect that he was awake? Probably. Someone might have spotted him, noticed that he didn’t respond the way the others did. If George were alive at one minute after eight tomorrow morning, then they would be sure.

“No use waiting here for the end,” he thought.

He went out again. The posters, the TV, the occasional commands from passing aliens did not seem to have absolute power over him, though he still felt strongly tempted to obey, to see things the way his master wanted him to see them. He passed an alley and stopped. One of the aliens was alone there, leaning against the wall. George walked up to him.

“Move on,” grunted the thing, focusing his deadly eyes on George.

George felt his grasp on awareness waver. For a moment the reptilian head dissolved into the face of a lovable old drunk. Of course the drunk would be lovable. George picked up a brick and smashed it down on the old drunk’s head with all his strength. For a moment the image blurred, then the blue-green blood oozed out of the face and the lizrd fell, twitching and writhing. After a moment it was dead.

George dragged the body into the shadows and searched it. There was a tiny radio in its pocket and a curiously shaped knife and fork in another. The tiny radio said something in an incomprehensible language. George put it down beside the body, but kept the eating utensils.

“I can’t possibly escape,” thought George. “Why fight them?”

But maybe he could.

What if he could awaken others? That might be worth a try.

He walked twelve blocks to the apartment of his girl friend, Lil, and knocked on her door. She came to the door in her bathrobe.

“I want you to wake up,” he said

“I’m awake,” she said. “Come on in.”

He went in. The TV was playing. He turned it off.

“No,” he said. “I mean really wake up.” She looked at him without comprehension, so he snapped his fingers and shouted, “Wake up! The masters command that you wake up!”

“Are you off your rocker, George?” she asked suspiciously. “You sure are acting funny.” He slapped her face. “Cut that out!” she cried, “What the hell are you up to anyway?”

“Nothing,” said George, defeated. “I was just kidding around.”

“Slapping my face wasn’t just kidding around!” she cried.

There was a knock at the door.

George opened it.

It was one of the aliens.

“Can’t you keep the noise down to a dull roar?” it said.

The eyes and reptilian flesh faded a little and George saw the flickering image of a fat middle-aged man in shirtsleeves. It was still a man when George slashed its throat with the eating knife, but it was an alien before it hit the floor. He dragged it into the apartment and kicked the door shut. “What do you see there?” he asked Lil, pointing to the many-eyed snake thing on the floor.

“Mister…Mister Coney,” she whispered, her eyes wide with horror. “You…just killed him, like it was nothing at all.”

“Don’t scream,” warned George, advancing on her.

“I won’t George. I swear I won’t, only please, for the love of God, put down that knife.” She backed away until she had her shoulder blades pressed to the wall.

George saw that it was no use.

“I’m going to tie you up,” said George. “First tell me which room Mister Coney lived in.”

“The first door on your left as you go toward teh stairs,” she said. “Georgie…Georgie. Don’t torture me. If you’re going to kill me, do it clean. Please, Georgie, please.”

He tied her up with bedsheets and gagged her, then searched the body of the Fascinator. There was another one of the little radios that talked a foreign language, another set of eating utensils, and nothing else.

George went next door.

When he knocked, one of the snake-things answered, “Who is it?”

“Friend of Mister Coney. I wanna see him,” said George.

“He went out for a second, but he’ll be right back.” The door opened a crack, and four yellow eyes peeped out. “You wanna come in and wait?”

“Okay,” said George, not looking at the eyes.

“You alone here?” he asked as it closed the door, its back to George.

“Yeah, why?”

He slit its throat from behind, then searched the apartment.

He found human bones and skulls, a half-eaten hand.

He found tanks with huge fat slugs floating in them.

“The children,” he thought, and killed them all.

There were guns too, of a sort he had never seen before. He discharged one by accident, but fortunately it was noiseless. It seemed to fire little poisoned darts.

He pocketed the gun and as many boxes of darts he could and went back to Lil’s place. When she saw him she writhed in helpless terror.

“Relax, honey” he said, opening her purse, “I just want to borrow your car keys.”

He took the keys and went downstairs to the street.

Her car was still parked in the same general area in which she always parked it. He recognized it by the dent in the right fender. He got in, started it, and began driving aimlessly. He drove for hours, thinking–desperately searching for some way out. He turned on the car radio to see if he could get some music, but there was ntohing but news and it was all about him, George Nada, the homicidal maniac. The announcer was one of the masters, but he sounded a little scared. Why should he be? What could one man do?

George wasn’t surprised when he saw the road block, and he turned off on a side street before he reached it. No little trip to the country for you, Georgie boy, he thought to himself.

They had just discvered what he had done back at Lil’s place, so they would probably be looking for Lil’s car. He parked it in an alley and took the subway. There were no aliens on the subway, for some reason. Maybe they were too good for such things, or maybe it was just because it was so late at night.

When one finally did get on, George got off.

He went up to the street and went into a bar. One of the Fascinators was on the TV, saying over and over again, “We are your friends. We are your friends. We are your friends.” The stupid lizard sounded scared. Why? What could one man do against all of them?

George ordered a beer, the it suddenly struck him that the Fascinator on the TV no longer seemed to have any power over him. He looked at it again and thought, “It has to believe it can master me to do it. The slightest hint of fear on its part and the power to hypnotize is lost.” They flashed George’s picture on the TV screen and George retreated to the phone booth. He called his control, the Chief of Police.

“Hello, Robinson?” he asked.

“Speaking.”

“This is George Nada. I’ve figured out how to wake people up.”

“What? George, hang on. Where are you?” Robinson sounded almost hysterical.

He hung up and paid and left the bar. They would probably trace his call.

He caught another subway and went downtown.

It was dawn when he entered the building housing the biggest of the city’s TV studios. He consulted the building director and then went up in the elevator. The cop in front of the studio recognized him. “Why, you’re Nada!” he gasped.

George didn’t like to shoot him with the poison dart gun, but he had to.

He had to kill several more before he got into the studio itself, including all the engineers on duty. There were a lot of police sirens outside, excited shouts, and running footsteps on the stairs. The alien was sitting before the the TV camera saying, “We are your friends. We are your friends,” and didn’t see George come in. When George shot him with the needle gun he simply stopped in mid-sentence and sat there, dead. George stoond near him and said, imitating the alien croak, “Wake up. Wake up. See us as we are and kill us!”

It was George’s voice the city heard that morning, but it was the Fascinator’s image, and the city did awake for the very first time and the war began.

George did not live to see the victory that finally came. He died of a heart attack at exactly eight o’clock.

Oh, That’s Just Silly

We saw Alien Covenent tonight.

It wasn’t a bad movie, but it wasn’t a good one, either.

I had hoped for so much more.

My initial thought as the credits were rolling was that this franchise has become the M. Night Shamalan of the genre; something that started out great and rapidly deteriorated to predictable, meaningless, crap.

Predictable is the key word here. There is nothing left to shock or surprise any more. You already know that by the end of the film everyone except one or two humans and the Synthetic will have been dispatched in the most gruesome ways possible.

The monster alien drips acid. The alien has a double steel jaw and likes to tunnel through your skull with it. The alien will burst out of your body somewhere. And most importantly, if you’re separated from your comrades and your attention is focused somewhere else, you will die.

Viewed strictly as horror cinema (which is what the Alien franchise is), it was much more effective when you didn’t know every anatomical detail of what was lurking in the shadows. What we don’t know is far scarier than what we do.

I remember how I felt after leaving the theater back in 1979 at the original Alien premiere. It scared the bejeebus out of me. I kept looking over my shoulder as I walked back to my car, and then kept one eye on my rearview mirror all the way home.

In 1986, after screening Aliens (IMHO probably the best film of the series), I came home and promptly turned on every light in the apartment.

But no more. Now the whole thing now just strikes me as silly.

To its credit, Covenant isn’t chock full of stupid scientists the way  Prometheus was. It also answers most—if not all—of the outstanding questions posed by its predecessor. But it was so damned predictable. Ben whispered the final “gotcha” moment to me a good fifteen minutes before the end of the film; something I’d also already figured out on my own.

And Ridley Scott says he wants to do five more? Please, for the love of the gods, NO. Let it DIE.

 

Nightmare Scenario

I probably shouldn’t have watched one of my all-time favorite thrillers, The Hunt for Red October, before going to bed last night, but Alec Baldwin was undoubtedly at the height of his yumminess when the film came out in 1990 and I just simply couldn’t surf past. (Since Alec and I are the same age—something I hadn’t realized until I just double-checked the release date—I suppose I was at the height of my yumminess at the same time too. Sigh.)

Oh Alec…that chest hair [swoon]!

Sorry. I got distracted. Anyhow…

With our Executive branch of government currently in—to put it politely, total disarray—led by an imbecile who thinks he knows everything and refuses to listen to anyone or anything other than the voices in his own head, what’s to prevent the nightmare scenario postulated in the film (Russians parking a submarine off the eastern coast of the United States and nuking DC) from actually happening? Even if the military/CIA/FBI are aware of it and attempt to brief Cheetolini, who’s to say he won’t dismiss it as “fake news”—especially considering his tongue is so far up Putin’s ass they’re French kissing? Launch a nuke on DC and you’ve taken out the Federal Government, rendering any sort of immediate, coordinated response impossible. What would prevent Russian troops from then simply walking onto US soil and taking over à la Red Dawn?

I would hope that the government has a plan in place in the event of such a calamity, but who knows? This is the sort of shit that keeps me awake at 4 am.

Late To The Party

Ben and I finally got around to seeing Star Trek Beyond this past weekend. Between procrastination and admittedly a certain amount of apathy, I was beginning to think this was going to the first big-screen Trek that I wasn’t actually going to experience on the big screen.

Before seeing it, I already knew the storyline: malevolent alien, disgruntled former Starfleet Officer, or unknown galactic entity threatens to destroy the entire Federation and only Kirk, the Enterprise and its valiant crew stands between it and total annihilation. (“You’ve seen this before!”)

Was I wrong? No. Did I walk out of the theater feeling like I’d been cheated out of my money? Not at all. It was an enjoyable—albeit fairly predictable in places—two hours of entertainment and something I will no doubt be adding to my collection when it comes available on disk. (Plus, pretty much all the lead actors bring a level of eye candy to the screen that is undeniable.)

But am I the only one to notice how a plot point from the Space Seed episode—that was not really utilized in Star Trek Into Darkness—showed up in a roundabout way in the current film?

I’m speaking about a group of people who for all intents the Federation abandoned. In Space Seed, it was Khan’s group that was left on Ceti Alpha V (which as we all know thanks to Wrath of Khan was a planet devastated by the explosion of Ceti Alpha VI some years after the relocation, rendering it nearly uninhabitable) with the Federation apparently completely forgetting about it—and with Beyond it was the ill-fated crew of the U.S.S. Franklin that was given up for dead.

And the brouha over Sulu being gay? Please, Mary. If you didn’t know to look for it, you wouldn’t even have spotted it.

Quibbles aside, I’ve come to love the “new” crew and it’s obvious the actors are developing that chemistry we have come to expect of the Trek franchise. How they will cope with the loss of Anton Yelchin remains to be seen; I know I felt a pang whenever Checkov was on screen, knowing full well that the fine young man who played him was snatched from our lives far too soon.

It will be interesting to see where future films take us. I’m looking forward to the journey.

So Many Feels

To celebrate National Dog Day, Universal Pictures presents the first look at, A Dog’s Purpose, an upcoming 2017 family comedy film starring Josh Gad, Britt Robertson, Peggy Lipton, and Dennis Quaid. A Dog’s Purpose comes to theaters on January 27th, 2017.

“Based on the beloved bestselling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog’s Purpose, from director Lasse Hallström, shares the soulful and surprising story of one devoted dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.”

This Looks Amazing

I just read Story of Your Life the other night after seeing a teaser for Arrival, the upcoming film that it’s based on. It’s not an especially easy read, concentrating as it does on language and how it influences our perception of the world, so I’m not exactly sure how this will translate onto the big screen. There were only two or three main characters in the work and it contained none of the ominous military excursions that are hinted at in the trailer.

Still, I’m excited to see this. More excited than about I was about seeing Star Trek Beyond—which we still haven’t made it to.