Category Archives: Movies

Movies I’ve recently rewatched about alien visitors

Last week I rewatched The Vast of Night and realized it was much better than I remembered. Most of the movies this week are much as I remember them, be that memory good or bad.

Although I generally hate found-footage films, I really enjoyed CLOVERFIELD (2008), a kaiju film from the POV of terrified bystanders running through the streets. In the middle of a party celebrating one guy’s departure for a job in Japan, a monster attacks Manhattan, leaving the protagonists scurrying through rubble, dodging military strikes and creepy alien spiders — but do they have a chance of reaching safety? This is similar enough to Skyline that I wonder if it was a direct influence, but this is much the better film. However it doesn’t qualify for Alien Visitors as the monster isn’t identified as an ET. “You know who Superman is — have you heard of Garfield?”

I remember SPACE JAM (1996) as a waste of celluloid and rewatching didn’t make it look any better. Aiens have abducted Bugs & Co. to become slave entertainers in their theme park; the cartoons strike a deal to play basketball for their freedom, only to have the ETs steal the skills of the NBA’s best. Michael Jordan, however, was retired at the time (the film’s treatment of his brief baseball career is pretty funny) so Bugs recruits him to lead the Looney Tunes to victory.

The first problem is that I can’t believe Bugs Bunny needs the help. He’s Bugs fricking Bunny, more than capable of outwitting armies and invading aliens. But the high concept requires a team-up with Jordan so … The results are uninspired, a poor substitute for the classic cartoons.

One thing that I did see differently was the emphasis on Michael Jordan. I admit I’m not a basketball fan so maybe it’s me, but the huge focus on Jordan’s dreams, family, etc. feels unnecessary, like it crossed over from some flattering documentary. I suspect this may not age well — by now, more than 15 years since Jordan’s retirement, it must seem as weird to younger viewers as the old Harlem Globetrotters Saturday morning cartoon. “I also see Michael Jordan being sucked down a golf hole by furry creatures.”

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1989) is an SF musical in which Geena Davis gets distracted from her impending marriage by a spaceship crashing into her pool with Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey on board. Goldblum falls for Davis fast, but can she accept an ET is Mr. Right? Or will she fall back into the arms of her cheating fiancee Charles Rocket (“Just because I’m getting married to her doesn’t mean we can’t date.”).

In contrast to the other movies, I really enjoyed this one the first time I caught it but not so much now. Partly it’s very 1980s in its depiction of how to have a good time (it’s the kind of movie Take Me Home Tonight tried to be and failed), partly because the romance feels more formulaic. Contrary to The Movie Musical this makes no attempt to rationalize why Davis’ buddy Judy Brown keeps suddenly breaking into song (though you could reasonably argue this movie is goofy enough no rationalization is needed). Rewatching this didn’t give me any insights for Alien Visitors though I might develop some down the road. “I can’t believe you’re Frenching an alien in front of all these people!”

I think I watched part of A MESSAGE FROM MARS (1913) earlier in my work on the book and didn’t think it worth finishing at the time. If so, I was right: where Algol has Alien As Demon, this has Martian As Angel (I suppose it would double bill well with the Christian Martians of Red Planet Mars), sent to Earth to force the world’s most selfish man to redeem himself. This doesn’t work even as a straight drama, as the guy conveys his seflishness just by standing around looking smug. “You shall not return home until you prove your unselfishness.”

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My imaginary friend is completely real!

It’s shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a number of films focusing on kids and ETs. Some of them are geared for a kid audience, such as Explorers, The Space Children or (at the same link) Invaders From Mars.

Some are teen-centric such as Pajama Party (same link again). Others, such as E.T., work well for all ages. Super 8 is a nostalgia fest I suspect works much better if you’re old enough to remember the 1980s.

As I noted in my post on The Space Children, family conflict is a running element in a lot of these films. The kids and Mom in the core family are stressed out at relocating to an isolated rocket base for Dad’s job; another kid suffers from an abusive, drunken stepfather. By end of movie, the problems have been resolved. E.T., according to Spielberg, was meant to show a suburban family that was disintegrating in the wake of the parents’ divorce; E.T. again heals them.

Another theme I’m noticing is the idea of children having a secret friend nobody else knows about, or even believes. Which is a concept that can range from innocent and adorable to ominous, depending what the friend really is and what they want. It overlaps with a theme my friend Ross has mentioned, that an alien can serve as a Pied Piper type leading a child in their wake … but where?

The example that sparked Ross’s thought was the Outer Limits episode The Special One. Dignified Mr. Zeno informs a father played by MacDonald Carey (best known for his soap opera career) that his son is a super-intelligent mutant selected for special tutoring by the federal government. In reality Zeno is an alien hoping to recruit the boy’s genius (other aliens are working with other kids) for his plans of conquest, building weapons to attack Earth from within. In the end, Zeno fails: the kid’s a nice, decent Earth boy who wants a nice normal life, not to be feted as a conqueror’s lackey. It’s an uninspired episode (I’ll be discussing Outer Limits‘ mixed record when I finish the first season), partly because the kid’s stiff and wooden.

The alien in Alien Lover, a 1975 episode of Wide World of Mystery, a late-night ABC series. Kate Mulgrew is a teenager who who had a mental collapse after the death of her parents; recently released from a mental hospital, she’s staying with uncle Pernell Roberts and his family. When the TV in her MIT-genius cousin’s lab starts talking to her, Mulgrew assumes she’s delusional. Or maybe her cousin’s playing a trick? The delusion introduces himself as Mark, resident of a parallel world where parents are banished as soon as they give birth — no oppressor parental figures harshing their freedom, man! The cousin eventually reveals Mark talked to him too, trying to gain access to Earth so his people can invade. Mulgrew, however, is in love and she doesn’t really care what Mark wants if he’ll be her friend. Suffice to say, Mark ends up with more success than Mr. Zeno found.

In 1984, British TV adapted CHOCKY, one of John Wyndham’s novels (yes, the same guy who gave us Day of the Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos). A young middleclass couple are bemused when their son Matthew suddenly acquires an imaginary friend, just like his younger sister. Then they notice Chocky inspires Matt to ask really strange questions — why aren’t cows more intelligent? Why are their two sexes? And what sort of kid in that era would imagine a nonbinary friend (though they settle for calling Chocky a “she” after the son says she’s bossy, just like girls are)? A psychiatrist friend talks to Matthew and gives the parents a startling conclusion: Chocky, whoever or whatever she is, is real.

It turns out Chocky is an alien consciousness, seeking to help us through Matthew. Unlike Klaatu, it’s pure selflessness: intelligent life is rare and they want to help ours flourish. By steering Matthew into science, Chocky would have eventually inspired him to discover a new source of cheap, clean energy, transforming the world. Unfortunately she told him too much too soon and the powers that be are now interested. Fearful they’ll kill him to preserve the status quo, Chocky decides she needs to go; Matthew’s life can return to normal and he’ll be out of danger.

It’s an excellent story and unlike Second Chance the kid playing Matthew is up for the role. British TV made a couple of sequel series, which I’ll watch soon.

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Martial artists and extraterrestrials: TV and movies viewed

The CW’s new KUNG FU has nothing to do with the David Carradine series (of which I’ve seen S1, S2 and S3) besides the name) which made me worry the name would turn people off rather than draw them in. It’s been renewed for a second season, though, so I guess they knew what they were doing.

Olivia Liang plays Nicky Shen, who fled her overbearing mother and wound up spending three years in a Shaolin monastery. After the mysterious martial artist Zhilan (Gwendoline Yeo) murders Nicky’s mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) and steals an ancient sword, Nicky returns home. Reuniting with a family she blew off isn’t easy; then she learns from history student Henry (Eddie Liu) that the sword is part of a set of mystical weapons that will make Zhilan seriously bad news if she collected all of them. In between trying to recover some of the McGuffins, Nicky winds up helping out family members and others with her combat skills.

While the mystical backstory doesn’t grab me, the characters and actors are good, the action’s fun and the Chinese-American elements are interesting (Nerds of Color gives them a thumbs up). I look forward to the second season. “If you want to judge my teaching, do not look to my skill — look to yourself.”

After watching Beyond Skyline I Netflixed the previous film, SKYLINE (2010) but it’s neither informative about the alien agenda nor particularly good: a group of unremarkable twentysomething friends have to put their personal dramas on hold to evade the aliens who’ve attacked Los Angeles. Even though this ends on a cliffhanger, I don’t think Beyond Skyline followed up on any of the characters here; I wouldn’t bother with the third film, Skylines, but it has elements I think will be of interest for Alien Visitors. “They aren’t dead — they’re just really pissed off.”

I rewatched THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020) to see if I gleaned more from it now that I’m further into the alien abductions chapter. What I mostly gleaned was that I must have been in a bad headspace when I first watched it as I liked it so much better this time (though the gimmick of making it an episode of a Twilight Zone type anthology still doesn’t add anything). A telephone operator picks up a strange sound coming over some of the wires, which leads to her and the local DJ investigating and discovering a story of UFOs, abductions and mysterious government cover-ups.

This works despite explaining very little of what’s going on, or why. It does show how much UFO abduction stories track with horror; with a little tweaking, this could be about the protagonists stumbling onto some Lovecraftian secret, just as one woman’s strange child could be a changeling. “Free will is an illusion with them up there.”

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Alien as Immigrant: The Brother From Another Planet

Alien immigrants and refugees have been around in movies since It Came From Outer Space(1953). There, though, the aliens were just on Earth temporarily, to repair their space ship. Later we’d see them coming to Earth as permanent refugees in District 9, the Alien Nation franchise, The Coneheads, Mork and Mindy and others.

For some people it’s an unsatisfying metaphor. I’ve read arguments that by focusing on discrimination against the aliens (such as the Newcomers of Alien Nation) films ignore that in real life having a new group to discriminate against doesn’t make old discrimination go away. Irish immigration to America generated lots of bigotry — the Irish were considered about one level above blacks, maybe — but racism didn’t disappear. And many of the Irish soon embraced racism, aligning themselves with WASPsby showing they hated the same people. Some Italian immigrants did the same.

Another criticism (also leveled at the X-Men As Minority trope) is that it’s offensive to take aliens who are literally nonhuman and present them as the counterparts of human refugees — isn’t this exactly how xenophobes see immigrants, as something less than human? Watching John Sayles’ 1984 film THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, I wonder if making the immigrant black weakens that argument at all (I have no opinion on that myself).

The Brother (Joe Morton), an escaped ET slave, crashes to Earth in New York Harbor, then climbs out on Ellis Island. Human except for his alien feet, he steals clothes and wanders through the Big Apple, ending up in Harlem. Mute unsure how to fit in, unclear about our culture, he’s empathic enough to understand other people. And he wins a job when he demonstrates a psychic ability to heal machines. Slowly he begins to make a place for himself, but hot on his heels comes two slave hunters (one of them director John Sayles, who can project a surprisingly nasty presence onscreen).

There’s a moment that hits me as much creepier now than it did on earlier viewings, when Sayles demands one black guy who’s being uncooperative show him his green card. The black dude informs Sayles his family have been American for centuries so STFU.

The film is good but flawed. The plotline of the Brother (as he’s mute, he never gives his name) busting a drug ring feels like it wandered in from a 1970s blacksploitation film. The fight scenes with the slavers feel more comical than they should.

On the plus side, this is less about the politics of immigration than the emotional experience. The Brother doesn’t know anyone, doesn’t know the rules, is terrified of making a mistake; when he sees a crucifix he assumes it’s a representation of how Earth punishes people which doesn’t make him feel at ease. Slowly, even without speaking, he develops friendships, begins to fit in and makes himself a home here. I don’t know if any of that makes the Alien As Immigrant aspect more palatable (I tried looking online, but didn’t find much commentary), but it works for me.

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Concentration camps, Black Lightning and Nancy Drew: a book and some TV

I’ve read for years that the British introduced concentration camps in the Boer War, but ONE LONG NIGHT: A Global History of Concentration Camps by Andrea Pitzer shows it started several years earlier, in Cuba. With the population supporting the guerillas fighting Spanish colonial control, one General Weyler “concentrated” thousands of civilians in camps under Spanish control to break the back of the revolution. Targeting civilians outraged a lot of the world, but when the United States took over the Philippines from Spain, the military adopted the same tactic to put down the ungrateful Filipino resistance. Then the British used the tactic in the Boer War. When WW I began, Britain and other combatants began using camps to hold foreign nationals, which in Russia eventually mutated into the Communist gulag. And from the same ugly root we got the Nazi death camps, colonial concentration camps in Kenya and Algeria, the Japanese-American internment camps and eventually Guantanamo Bay. Pitzer does an excellent job showing how it all fits together, and how quickly efforts to treat prisoners well fall apart. Grimly informative.

BLACK LIGHTNING wrapped up its fourth and final season last month, and went out on a win. Freed from prison, Tobias (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III) schemes to take over Freedland, develop a weapon that neutralizes metas and destroy the Pierce family. It’s his revenge plan that elevates the season: rather than tackle them as superheroes he destroys their civilian reputations, for example framing Jeff (Cress Williams) for embezzling from the high school he ran for so many years. Oh, and buying Jeff’s father’s house just so he can destroy it for one of his building projects.

It’s a solid season but I think the short length (three episodes less than usual, and one episode devoted to an unsuccessful back-door plot) made some elements a little rushed. The mysterious Shadow Board Tobias wants to join never gets enough of an explanation; the meta-hating police chief gets a rushed arc in which she turns herself into a meta to destroy Lightning but it doesn’t have enough time to work (plus the idea just outing the chief as a bigot will discredit her as a cop — this show doesn’t usually go for such simplistic solutions). Overall, though, a pleasure. Tobias can’t feel shame — that’s why you’ll never become the kind of man he is.”

The second season of NANCY DREW wraps up the Covid-shortened first season, then moves in new directions. Nancy (Kennedy McMann) wants to take down corrupt local bigwig Everett Hudson, despite discovering that he’s her grandfather. As Everett’s quite willing to kill in self-interest, the threat level is even higher than S1. Meanwhile George (Leah Lewis) becomes host to the spirit of a 19th century Frenchwoman, Nancy starts dating one of the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift (gay and black) puts in an appearance (a back-door pilot — I imagine if the Hardy Boys hadn’t had a recent series on Hulu, we’d have seen them here too). The ending of the season is the discovery Nancy’s possessed and doomed if they can’t reverse things — but doing so only unleashes a worst menace to threaten Horseshoe Bay in S3.

I really enjoyed the first season and this one works just as well. The characterization is good and there are some great lines, like Nancy referring to “a creepy nature cult I exposed when I was 11.” One delightful episode has them repeatedly having to erase their memories because of an unspeakable name they’ve learned — a Groundhog Day set-up without an actual time loop. I’m looking forward to S3. “Everett didn’t ask about the numbers, only who knew about them.”

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The Fast, the Furious, the Alien: movies viewed

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017) is a middling entry in the series. While Dom and Letty (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez) honeymoon in Cuba (which allows for the requisite street racing scene), he’s contacted by ultimate hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) who shows him Something on her phone. Later, when the team recovers an EMP generator for Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell again), Dom steals it for her — because, as we learn later, she’s kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and the son he never knew he had. Now Dom has to help her plan to steal a nuclear submarine to hold the world’s superpowers accountable (this isn’t really explained — I’m not sure if it’s another example of giving villains noble goals or a way to keep Dom from being too much in the wrong). To stop Cipher the team recruit both Shaw brothers, but will it be enough?

Cipher is a decent villain in the computers-are-magic vein, and in the vein of the Furious 6 retcons, she’s revealed as the mastermind behind the previous two films’ crimes. On the other hand, she’s prone to the kind of pretentious philosophizing that too many comic book villains these days give in to, explaining at length how Dom’s sense of family and his guilt are completely meaningless. The film as a whole is enjoyable enough, but the strains of trying to top themselves film after film are showing (small wonder after F&F9 this year, they’re only going to do two more). The Shaw brothers are redeemed way too easily and the team, as Camestros Felapton says, are no longer rebels and outsiders — they’re so government they might as well be the IMF or the GI Joe team.. “Now we know what it feels like to be any cop who’s ever gone up against us.”

BEYOND SKYLINE (2017) has some very HR Giger-looking aliens occupying LA and abducting humans as a power source for their tech; one angry cop escapes but he’s determined to go back and rescue his son by any means necessary. This makes me think alien abduction films are seeping into alien-invasion films; like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds this spends a lot of time showing the horrible tortures inflicted on us once we’re taken into the alien ships. As this is actually the sequel to another film, Skyline, I’ll have more insights (I hope) after I watch that one. A bit too much an action film, but some good ideas. “We did more than survive — we evolved.”

Directed by the Wachowskis, JUPITER ASCENDING (2015) has Mila Kunis discovers the’s the genetic duplicate of a dead alien queen — which as that culture considers genetic double as reincarnates, means she inherits all the queen’s wealth, including control of Earth. As we’re a prime source for genes useful in the aliens’ life-extension therapies, a lot of rivals would like her to give up what she owns — can genetically engineered fighter Channing Tatum keep her alive? This is big, colorful and very much old school space opera (I mean this as a good thing), but it’s a little too stock,  and Kunis’ character is more acted upon than acting. As this takes place mostly out in distant space, it may not qualify for Alien Visitors. “Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.”

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Now and Then, We All Watch Aliens; movies and TV

(Apologies to Atlanta Rhythm Section for twisting a line from this song).

DEBRIS was a new NBC series set in a world where fragments of an alien space craft have been raining down on Earth for three years, all of them capable of fantastic powers and transformations. Jones and Beneventi (Riann Steele, Jonathan Tucker) are the agents attempting to gather Debris and avert whatever weirdness they unleash, such as turning people younger, or making the atmosphere toxic (in many ways, the magical effects remind me of the cursed antiques in the Friday the 13th TV series). Opposing them: the mysterious organization called Influx, the government’s hidden agenda and the Debris’s own mysterious intentions. If not for Alien Visitors I doubt I’d have watched this season all the way through. “I’m going to tell you something, but you’re going to wish I hadn’t.”

I liked ARRIVAL (2016) more on rewatching than I did first time (although I have some of the same reservations, like how fast they move from very basic concepts to reasonably sophisticated discussions in ET-speak). From the perspective of working on the book, I’m not sure I gained anything other to notice that like Independence Day the spaceships are humongous compared to say, Klaatu’s ship in Day the Earth Stood Still. “It’s not true, but it proved my point.”

Based on Walter Tevis’ novel, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976) is every bit the arty mess that I heard critics describe it as when it hit the big screen. David Bowie plays an ET seeking Earth’s water for his drought-stricken world (it’s unclear whether he’s planning to just take it or has something else in mind) but gets distracted by gin, TV and lover Candy Clark. Director Nicolas Roeg seems equally distracted, bouncing from Bowie’s business to his love life to CIA schemes, or with years passing between scenes kind of randomly. Interesting to see, but not terribly fun to see. With Buck Henry as Bowie’s legal aide, Rip Torn as a disillusioned scientist and Bernie Casey as a CIA agent. This reminds me at some point in the book I should cover the idea of aliens succumbing to hedonism on Earth, though that’s usually sex (e.g., Brain from Planet Arous). “If I owned the copyright on the Bible, I wouldn’t sell it to Random House.”

Getting away from ETs, we have WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR (2018), an excellent documentary on how Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers wound up becoming a TV icon despite not liking most TV, and how he managed to tackle divorce, death and the RFK assassination on a show for small children. A curious look at a man who was exactly what he appeared to be but also more than he seemed; the closest they can find to a scandal is pundits claiming Mr. Rogers is what messed up the younger generations (“He told them they didn’t have to achieve anything to be special!”). “I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch of rumors about him being a Navy seal.”

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Another side effect of a chaotic week

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent most of last week working on Leaf and Veteran Network articles, even last weekend. So no movie or TV reviews today. So here’s a random selection of posters from movies I’ve reviewed in the past.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Na-nu, Na-nu!

In 1978, Robin Williams was a wildly anarchic improv comic. Then came Mork and Mindy. The show made Williams a star, and having just finished rewatching the first season, it’s easy to see why.

The concept — alien visitor tries to make sense of life on Earth with the help of Mindy (Pam Dawber) sounded like a rehash of My Favorite Martian, which had Ray Walston as the ET moving in with reporter Bill Bixby. Williams made Mork much much more. His manic, hyper-energetic delivery (I’m not surprised to read he was a heavy cocaine user around this time) makes even mildly weird lines sound bizarre. And many of his antics are several times weirder: falling in love with a mannequin or going around the bend when Mindy’s frenemy Susan (Morgan Fairchild) tries to seduce him. The episode where he lets go of his repressed emotions and becomes an impulsive whirlwind has to be seen to be believed. Not that all the episodes were that crazy: one where Mork and Bickley (Tom Poston) go to a singles bar could have been done on almost any show with two single male characters.

Dawber is competent as Mindy, but suffers from being straight man to Williams’ scene stealing. They do work well together, though, giving Mork a warmth he might not otherwise have. The supporting cast includes Mindy’s long-suffering father (Conrad Janis) and Exidor (Robert Donner), a street-corner prophet who makes Mork look almost normal. In one episode, Mork adopts a caterpillar as a pet; Exidor declares it’s the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln (“Does that look like a face that would tolerate slavery?”).

It may be significant that where Walston’s Martin seems like a nice, avuncular guy to hang with, Mork would be a lot harder to endure for long. Alf, the 1980s’ contribution to this kind of sitcom, was even more annoying and the My Favorite Martian movie made Martin as irritating as Mork, without any of the warmth.

The show ended the first season as a solid hit, but the producers then tampered with success, changing the supporting cast and (I’m going by critical reviews here, as I missed most of that season) making Mork increasingly mundane. Third season attempted to fix this, first by acknowledging the problem: by the first episode of S3, Mork has completely assimilated and become mundane. It takes an “eggorcism” (eggs play a big role on Mork’s home planet, Ork) to restore him to his goofy self. Fourth season, they tried to keep things going with that old reliable, a wedding: Mork and Mindy finally marry, then they have a baby. But as Orkans start out physically adult and age backwards (that way kids get some respect and everyone thinks seniors are cute) the baby — Mork gets pregnant and delivers Jonathan Winters as the baby. This produced some fun episodes, but it didn’t save the series. Though obviously Williams’ career didn’t suffer any.

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The murderous alien clowns were the pick of the week

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988) is a one-joke film but the joke works. A necking couple spots a shooting star landing nearby (while I haven’t kept track, this and having something weird briefly appear on radar are staple opening setups). Next thing you know, ET clowns are cocooning the locals with candy-cotton guns, tracking them with balloon-animal bloodhounds, feeding people to shadow puppets, or jumping out of a clown car that you wouldn’t think they could all fit inside. Can the town survive? I got particular pleasure out of one conversation where the characters try to make sense of this (“Maybe they were ancient astronauts and that’s why we have the idea of clowns in our culture.”). Doesn’t give me any deep inside for Alien Visitors but still enjoyable low-budget fun.“I don’t believe in UFOs, but if they exist, we’re inside one.”

K-PAX (2002) aims higher and falls very far short. Kevin Spacey is Prot, the self-proclaimed ET visitor locked up in an asylum where Jeff Bridges tries to restore him to sanity. But Bridges can’t help noticing his patient is rehabilitating the other patients much better than conventional therapy — and while it’s impossible, you don’t suppose he could really be telling the truth, do you? This mix of psychological drama and SF doesn’t work as either, and feels cobbled together from bits of better movies (Fisher King and Equus come to mind). Spacey, as usual, delivers his lines with a Smartest Guy In The Room air, and it doesn’t work here (if he were more frustrated or more — well, anything — there’d be a more interesting conflict). “I have arrived, so my travels are over for the time being.”

COLOSSAL (2016) has an interesting concept (though not one that qualifies for Alien Visitors) but unsatisfying execution. After drunken party girl Anne Hathaway’s boyfriend breaks up with her, she returns to her home town and meets up with her old boyfriend. When a monster goes rampaging through Seoul, Hathaway realizes it’s acting out her inner frustrations; worse, her ex discovers how to do the same trick and threatens to go on a rampage if Hathaway crosses him (“I will crush an entire suburb!”). There’s definitely a good movie buried in this, but it doesn’t come to the surface. It’s also disturbing that the movie seems to care less about the hundreds of dead Koreans than about Hathaway’s personal growth arc. “Who gets a tattoo that says ‘I’m sorry, this won’t happen again.’”

Guillermo del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) is another one that doesn’t fit the book, though it’s a much superior film. A mute cleaning woman at an early 1960s government lab discovers they’ve captured the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon and are subjecting him to cruel experiments, plus outright cruelty. Slowly she bonds with the creature, then sets out to help him escape. Despite some jarring brutality in spots, this is very good, particularly in its evocation of 1962. “That’s the password — ‘And the eagle takes the prey.’”

The 2002 SyFy miniseries TAKEN evokes quite a few eras, starting in WW II when a fighter squadron is harassed by foo lights (though they don’t use the term), then following various families across the decades as they’re abducted by ETs and spied on by the government (though one of the families is part of the goverment UFO Watch program). I was initially unimpressed by this but found it picked up near the end; in fairness, that may reflect I wasn’t a little more relaxed for the ending episodes.

The secret behind it all turns out to be that aliens are experimenting in hopes of understanding emotions (“You have so much that we’ve lost.”). The culmination of their work is the human/ET hybrid Allie (Dakota Fanning) who has powers far beyond the aliens. This made me realize how often this happens, for example with super-powered Elizabeth in V. So stuff was learned, even if it was a slog to get there. “Right son — there were no monsters in my generation.”

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