Friday, March 30, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Be Intrigued. Be Seduced. Be Warned.

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Aliens, ghosts, and human relationships.

SPECIES (1995)

The day in July of 1995 when I saw Species in the theatre with my mom is a day I'll always remember, partly due to the experience of watching Species itself and the fact that 11-year-old me was blown away by lead actress Natasha Henstridge, a former model who made her acting debut with this film, but also because of one of the trailers shown before the movie. Species was an MGM release, and attached to it was a preview for an MGM release that would be coming out in November of that year - the James Bond film GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's first Bond film and the movie which marked Bond's triumphant return to the big screen after a six year gap. There weren't many people in the theatre that day, but one of them was a woman who had some very vocal reactions to things. At one point during the movie, there's a jump scare involving a squirrel that actually made this woman scream. But louder than any of her reactions to Species was her reaction to the GoldenEye trailer. She was obviously a Bond fan, and when she realized this trailer was for the new Bond movie, she cheered. I didn't get it at the time, I wasn't a Bond fan yet, and I wondered what the big deal was. By the time GoldenEye was released, I had become a Bond fan, and that woman's reaction to the trailer was one of the things that started me down that path. Soon Bond was one of my top cinematic obsessions.

As for Species, I like it, and find it to be a solid sci-fi creature feature.

The film begins at a government laboratory in Utah, with the shocking sight of a 12-year-old girl (played by Michelle Williams) being kept in a glass enclosure that employees start pumping poison gas into, having been ordered to by scientist Xavier Fitch (Ben Kingsley). When the girl realizes what's going on, she reveals that she's no order 12-year-old, demonstrating superhuman abilities as she escapes from the lab and hops onto a nearby train... where she easily kills a homeless rail rider who tries to attack her.

During a ride on a passenger train, the girl further proves that she's not human when her body wraps itself in a cocoon. Hours later she emerges as a twenty-something, now played by Henstridge. The girl is called Sil, and we learn that she was created in the lab by Fitch through the combination of human DNA with an alien DNA sequence received by SETI. Fitch chose to make this hybrid female, believing that would make it "more docile and controllable". She has grown to maturity in just three months... and now she's out to mate.

Sil prowls the streets of Los Angeles, learning how to function in society while also looking for a suitable partner to make a baby with. If she senses any imperfections in a man, she'll walk away... and if anyone stands between her and a man, or if a man rejects her or doesn't react well to her rejection, she kills them. In one memorable moment, she kills a man by jamming her tongue through his head.

Fitch assembles a team to find and destroy Sil before we have other alien-human hybrids running around. This team consists of mercenary Preston Lennox (Michael Madsen), empath Dan Smithson (Forest Whitaker), molecular biologist Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), and anthropologist Dr. Stephen Arden (Alfred Molina), "expert in cross-cultural behavior". Director Roger Donaldson put together one hell of a cast for this little monster movie.

You know the actors hunting Sil are going to do a fine job in their roles, and for a first-timer Henstridge did great. She's captivating in the role, handling the naive fish-out-of-water scenes, the seduction scenes, and the scenes of violence equally well. Her performance makes Sil a sympathetic character even when she's killing people, and even though we know she has to be destroyed for the good of the planet.

With her good looks, Sil doesn't have any problem drawing attention and lustful gazes. Beneath her human exterior, though, she is a monstrous creature designed by H.R. Giger, the same man who designed the xenomorph of the Alien franchise. When Fitch and his team grow a non-hybrid alien in the lab to see exactly what sort of species they're dealing with, the resulting creature is neither pretty nor nice. It's just a violent mass of thrashing tentacles.

Written by Dennis Feldman, Species moves along at a quick pace and offers plenty of action, violence, and sexuality to keep your interest. It's a B-movie concept with major studio backing, and twenty-three years later I still enjoy watching it, even when it doesn't have the GoldenEye trailer attached.


Patrick Brice is a filmmaker who is proving himself to be a master of dropping his characters into uncomfortably awkward situations. He put a horrific twist on an awkward situation with his film Creep, and with The Overnight he goes in a different direction - this one is pure comedy.

The film centers on Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling as Alex and Emily, a couple that has just moved to the Los Angeles area with their young son. When they take their son to the playground one day, they meet the father of another young boy, Jason Schwartzman as Kurt - first seen looking like a grown-up hipster version of one of the Children of the Corn.

The parents arrange a playdate for their kids, Alex and Emily take their son over to Kurt's place and while the kids play the parents - we're also introduced to Kurt's French wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) - get to know each other. Kurt and Charlotte want to keep the good times going even after the kids have fallen asleep... and once the kids are safely tucked away in bed, that's when things start to get weird between the parents. Kurt and Charlotte are much more free-spirited than Alex and Emily, but over the course of a night full of drinking and pot smoking the more conservative couple starts to shed their inhibitions. And the behavior of Kurt and Charlotte gets increasingly suspicious.

As the night goes on, The Overnight will make you wonder, "are they or aren't they?", as in are Kurt and Charlotte trying to seduce Alex and Emily... and if they are trying to do that, "will they or won't they?"

There are a lot of laughs to be had from the banter between the parents and the absurd, sometimes quite surprising things that happen. I wasn't sure about The Overnight going into it, but I was thoroughly entertained while it played out and am glad I watched it. It turned out to be a lot of awkward fun.

5 TO 7 (2014)

Spotting the film on Netflix, I started writer/director Victor Levin's 5 to 7 simply because it promised to be a love story with Anton Yelchin romancing Skyfall's Bérénice Marlohe, and I found the idea of Yelchin falling in love with a Bond girl to be very interesting. That is indeed what happens in 5 to 7, but the romance at the heart of it is an unconventional one: one where the couple - 24-year-old aspiring author Brian Bloom (Yelchin) and the wealthy, 33-year-old Arielle Pierpoint (Marlohe) - can only see each other during the two hour window between 5 and 7pm because Arielle is a married mother of two.

Don't feel bad for Arielle's husband, though. A French diplomat in New York City, Valéry Pierpoint (Lambert Wilson) is fully aware of his wife's affair and even approves of it. The couple has an arrangement, an open marriage, and Valéry even has a girlfriend himself - 25-year-old book editor Jane (Olivia Thirlby, who I used to see in movies all the time and now don't see often enough).

Regardless of how the viewer may feel about the arrangement between the Pierpoints and Brian's participation in it, Levin tells his story in an interesting way and Yelchin and Marlohe do a great job of bringing their characters and the love they share to the screen. Some things did seem like a leap to me - I really didn't think Brian was amazing as Arielle instantly did - but I went along with it and was intrigued to see how things would go. Thankfully, they didn't always go in the exact direction I expected them to go. Sure, some aspects are predictable, but not all of the situations turned out in the obvious way.

5 to 7 is a very solid movie that I hadn't heard of before seeing it on Netflix, and I felt that it should have gotten more attention so I would have heard of it sooner. If you're a fan of either or both of the lead actors, it's definitely worth checking out.


The Invoking trilogy is an interesting one in that it started off with a film that told a single story, and then the distributor decided to release a sequel that had nothing to do with that story - instead, it was an anthology that collected several short films with a paranormal theme. That anthology sequel must have been a strong rental, because another Invoking anthology film followed one year later. This is sort of the opposite of what you'd expect - with Tales from the Crypt, that started as an anthology and then they put out a feature, Demon Knight, that's one long story, like it's a "special extended episode". Other Crypt features followed. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a franchise other than The Invoking that shifted gears into the anthology style with a sequel. The intention with Halloween III was to turn the Halloween series into an anthology, but that still would have been one story per film.

The third Invoking movie consists of nine different stories: Chris Martens' The Dark Comes Quick, David Weathers and Calvin Main's The Dweller, Pavel Soukup's Selfies, Patrick Rea and Kendal Sinn's Prisoner at Bannons, Alfredo Hueck's La Dama de Blanco, Pavel Soukup's She Is Not My Sister, Ruben Rodriguez's Heartbreak and the Dead, Calvin Main's Bedroom Window, and Lee Matthews' 3 A.M.

That sounds like a lot, but most of these segments are quite short. The Invoking: Paranormal Dimensions is only 74 minutes long, with the end credits rolling by the 71 minute mark.

Running about 13 minutes, The Dark Comes Quick is shot in the found footage style and involves a group of friends venturing into an abandoned mine with the belief that it leads to an ancient underground Aztec temple - one which serves a passageway to the underworld. This belief is proven correct, and the characters get the glimpse into the underworld they were hoping for. They don't seem to like it very much. I didn't like this short very much. It had an interesting idea, but the execution didn't hold my attention.

The Dweller is about 5 minutes long and only has one human character, a young woman who shares an apartment with a supernatural presence that ruins her food and attacks her cat. It doesn't amount to much, but it's good while it lasts.

Selfies presents a concept I've seen done a few different times in recent years - the idea of someone taking a selfie and capturing something in the image that can't be seen by the naked eye. It's decent enough to sustain the short's 3+ minutes, and Soukup's take on the idea has a different twist than I had seen before.

Prisoner at Bannons' 8 minutes deal with the parents of an abducted girl, accompanied by a reporter and her cameraman, going to the remote location they were directed to in a message left behind by the abductors. An odd twist comes in when we're shown that there's a child-for-child swap going on here, and the abductors were not human... The abductors are also not spirits or demons, so this really stands out from the rest of the Invoking stories.

La Dama de Blanco (or The Lady in White) takes place in Venezuela and spends a long time following a group of young men who take a trip to the beach and then go clubbing, which feels like a waste of time in a short film. This should have gotten to the point quicker. The point is that a road is haunted by the spirit of a lady in white who gets into vehicles and causes them to crash. It takes 15 minutes for that to happen.

The 6 minute long She Is Not My Sister concerns a young boy who is not enthusiastic, to say the least, about the fact that he has gained a little stepsister. Some creepy stuff happens when he reluctantly takes her to the playground, something involving a game of hopscotch... This was one of the best stories in the movie, but the ending was too mean-spirited for my liking.

There's not much substance to the 6 minutes of Heartbreak and the Dead, it mostly just consists of one character wandering around an apartment, but it branches out to tell a story set at what seems to be the start of a zombie apocalypse.

Bedroom Window is a 3 minute story about a little boy whose third floor window seems to open by itself every night. His parents are shocked to find out the real reason why that window keeps opening. This story worked fine for its few minutes.

3 A.M. gets us through the last 9 minutes before the end credits by telling the story of strange occurrences at a home in the country, and in the midst of this it even throws in the cat scare cliché. It's pretty silly, a cat crosses the screen while a loud sound effect screams on the soundtrack, and that's supposed to be a scare. That's not the only instance of a ridiculous jump scare in this segment, either. That got old quick, and since this was another "one person wanders around" short, I didn't feel like 3 A.M. took the movie out on a high note.

The Invoking: Paranormal Dimensions isn't bad overall. It has a good variety to its stories, and there weren't any that I majorly disliked. Some were much better than others, but that's to be expected from something like this. If you like checking out horror anthologies, you could do worse than this one.

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