The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

My interest is energy – transference of energy. Humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back to his home planet,which is experiencing a catastrophic drought. He uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and acquires tremendous wealth as the head of a technology-based conglomerate, World Enterprises Corporation, aided by leading patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) who carries out all the interactions with people. His wealth is needed to construct a space vehicle with the intention of shipping water back to his home planet. While revisiting New Mexico he meets lonely Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) who works as a maid, bell-hop, and elevator operator in the small hotel where he’s staying. He tells her he is English. Mary-Lou introduces Newton to many customs of Earth, including church-going, alcohol, and sex. She and Newton live together in a house Newton has built close to where he first landed in New Mexico many years earlier. Womanising college lecturer Dr. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) lands a job as a fuel technician with World Enterprises and slowly becomes Newton’s confidant. He senses Newton’s alien nature and arranges a meeting with Newton at his home where he has hidden a special X-ray camera. When he steals a picture of Newton it reveals alien physiology. Newton’s appetite for alcohol and television becomes crippling and he and Mary-Lou fight. Realising that Bryce has learnt his secret, Newton reveals his alien form to Mary-Lou. Her initial reaction is one of pure shock and horror. She tries to accept what she sees but then panics and flees. Newton completes the spaceship and attempts to take it on its maiden voyage amid intense press exposure. However, just before his scheduled take-off, he is seized and detained, apparently by the government and a rival company while Farnsworth, is murdered. The government had been monitoring Newton via his driver and he is now held captive in a locked luxury apartment, constructed deep within a hotel. He is kept sedated with alcohol (to which he has become addicted) and continuously subject him to rigorous medical tests, cutting into the artificial applications which make him appear human. Eventually, one examination, involving X-rays, causes the contact lenses he wears as part of his human disguise to permanently affix themselves to his eyes … It happened literally overnight. Paul Mayersberg’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel is rigorous and finely attuned to the surreal. Bowie was living on milk and cocaine at the time, if his own admissions are to be believed, and his detachment and appearance are central to the success of probably the greatest science fiction film of the Seventies, an exploration of fragility and trust and rotten human behaviour. And it’s also about the alien nation of America, alienation and sex, feeding into contemporary paranoia about the political establishment. The flashbacks to Newton’s home and family are strange and lovely, his arrival in the nineteenth century simply dramatised for extra effectiveness in a narrative based on juxtaposition of the modern and the unknowable. Beautifully constructed, shot (by Anthony Richmond) and edited (by Graeme Clifford), this may well be director Nicolas Roeg’s greatest achievement with a wondrous soundtrack co-ordinated by John Phillips and featuring compositions by Stomu Yamashta. Stunning. I realise you’ve made certain assumptions about me

The Invisible Man (2020)

He needs you because you don’t need him. Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship with wealthy optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).  When she escapes from his home her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) helps her hide out with good friend San Francisco Police Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks later it appears Adrian has committed suicide but Cecilia feels she’s being watched. Her interview for an architectural firm is ruined when she arrives without her portfolio and she collapses after being drugged with Diazepam. Then she stages a reconciliation meal with her sister after confusion over an email sent from her account without her knowledge and Emily has her throat cut in front of her and Cecilia is arrested and placed in a secure unit. Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman) tells her she needs to have the baby she’s been told she’s having after Adrian replaced her contraceptive drugs and if she does she’ll live with him again and not go to prison. When the police refuse to believe her story, she decides to take matters into her own hands and fight back … He’s not out there. I promise. An ingenious reworking of the original H.G. Wells novel, hitting the contemporary staging posts of coercive control, gaslighting, stalking and surveillance, with technology taking top billing in a classic story of female paranoia. The morbid mood is brilliantly sustained by dint of point of view camera, simple composition and use of space; the tension is cunningly heightened as the tropes of horror and thrillers are ticked one by one. Moss gives a tour de force performance in a film that features her in every scene. The best horror film since It Follows and that’s saying something.What a good idea it was to move away from the idea of Universal’s concept of the Dark Universe in favour of standalone stories. Quite brilliant. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. This is what he does and he’s doing it again

Krull (1983)

I came to find a king and I find a boy instead. On the planet of Krull, Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and a fellowship of  motley companions – a bunch of bandits, brigands and criminals led by Torquil (Alun Armstrong) – embark on a journey to save his bride, Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) who is destined to become Queen. She has been kidnapped by an army of alien invaders led by the Beast, endangering the union of their respective kingdoms. Before he can rescue his betrothed from the citadel, he must locate a mystical weapon known as the Glaive which alone can slay the Beast … Good fighters make bad husbands. The Hero’s Journey as I live and breathe with a proper mission, terrific sidekicks and some actual monstrosity. Startling production design, beautiful pastoral vistas and a truly dastardly villain combine with nutty humour to create a pleasing fairy tale fantasy quest, all heroics and horrible sacrifice. David Battley is very amusing as Ergo, who consistently messes up his gift for turning people into animals by turning into them himself. Liam Neeson has a great supporting role as axe-wielding Kegan, one of the brigands, with ‘seven or eight’ wives one of whom he woos with the immortal line, Now look, petal. Faithful is my middle name! Anthony (who was dubbed to sound mature) spends much of the story in a scary tunnel dealing with the Beast’s doubles while that very pretty boy Marshall is off having his adventures with the guys, as you do. There’s lots of derring-do, loyal acts and effects galore in this Dungeons and Dragons homage. One of the bandits, who include Robbie Coltrane and Todd Carty, is played by Bronco McLoughlin, the legendary Irish stuntman who died last year. The stunning score is by James Horner. Charming as anything, this was written by Stanford Sherman and directed by Peter Yates. Power is fleeting. Love is eternal

Tenet (2020)

We live in a twilight world. An unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington) gets kidnapped and tortured by gangsters following an opera siege in Ukraine and wakes up after he takes a fake suicide pill, is rebuilt and sent on a new mission – to find out who’s shipping inverted bullets from the future using Priya (Dimple Kapadia) as a front. He discovers through a forged Goya it’s Russian arms dealer Andrey Sator (Kenneth Branagh) whose art expert wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) is more or less his hostage, trying to keep in contact with their young son. Working with British agent Neil (Robert Pattinson) he organises an attack on the (tax- free) Freeport in Oslo Airport where art treasures are being held in an attempt to to root out the channels Sator is using and tries to avert the end of the world as Sator’s suicide mission takes hold … With a hi-vis jacket and a clipboard you can get in practically anywhere in the world. The ongoing paradox – one of many – in the latest offering from writer/director Christopher Nolan – is that in a world of special effects he does his filmmaking in camera and this has an admirably real feeling, with a lot of it shot in gloomy European cities that mostly look alike – grey, with brutalist tower blocks and dull skies. It’s the dystopic vision that J.G. Ballard satirised while predicting the future, a time when Alain Resnais was pioneering storytelling backwards and forwards through time yet the Sixties feeling is very now. The palindromic inventiveness lies in the story structure, the characterisation and the trust in the audience. Of course it helps  that this tale of a man with the power of apocalypse in his nasty Eastern European paws with the foreknowledge informing his every move is released to a Covid-19 world where people wear masks and dread the end of days, rather like here (when they’re not masked they’re bearded, which is pretty much the same thing). That it also takes the long tall Sally from TV’s espionage hit adaptation of John le Carre’s The Night Manager and puts her in a markedly similar role doesn’t go amiss. These realistic meta touches – with Branagh’s horrifying oligarch resident in London – grip the narrative to something close to recognisable quotidian newspaper headlines; while the parallel lines of future-past intersect in the ‘inverted’ nodes that splatter in all directions. It may be that after one hundred minutes when they decide to return to Oslo and they mean go back in time to Oslo that the plot becomes not just far fetched but out of reach to the ordinary pea brain, or someone who thinks in too linear a fashion, as soldier Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) chides The Protagonist. As ever, we must remember that future and past selves best not meet each other or else – annihilation. There are boys’ own fantasies writ large – joyriding an aeroplane and causing a horrifying amount of damage, an exhilarating catamaran race, an astonishing quasi-hijacking which can’t possibly go well with all that time travel inversion stuff, great military hardware for the penultimate sequence and the unpeeling of The Protagonist aka The American who starts out from a very bad place indeed and is literally reconstituted to do his worst.  The entire narrative is based on one diadic exchange:  What just happened here?/ It didn’t happen yet! It’s a different experience than Inception which was all about a built world inhabited by a featureless character – a video game, in any language. Yet we can see all the references from the Airport movies, through Terry Gilliam and The Thomas Crown Affair in this timeblender. Branagh is such an evil bad guy you expect him to tell Washington he expects him to die while twirling his comedy moustache. Pattinson might well be reprising his T.E. Lawrence  in those early sweaty linen suits. How you appear is all, as Michael Caine’s Sir Michael Crosby informs Washington – less Brooks Brothers, more Savile Row tailoring. They are men on a mission but not Men in Black. This all concludes in the abject maternal being resolved in pleasing fashion, a not unfamiliar trope in Nolan’s body of work; the opportunity to rewrite your life is presented here in key moments. There is one huge technical problem with the film that damages the plot clarity and that is the woeful sound mix, leaving much dialogue lost in the guttural music of Ludwig Goransson while revelling in the sheer kinetic drive of the action. It’s not too late in this digital age to whip up some new codes to tidy it up, is it? Maybe just ratchet up the EQs a tad. In the interim, relish the historical possibilities of film editing in this awesome mosaic of affect and attractions and heed the advice given in soothing voice early on, Don’t try to understand it – feel it. Welcome back, Cinema.

UFO (2019)

UFO

The guy on TV was lying.  College student Derek (Alex Sharp) tries to use his exceptional mathematical skills to interpret messages that appear to have been sent around a UFO sighting at a local airport, suggesting extra-terrestrial attempts at contact. Accompanied by his room mate Lee (Benjamin Beatty) and girlfriend Natalie (Ella Purnell) he is rebuffed by the airport staff and Government officials including FBI Agent Franklin Ahls (David Strathairn) and suspects a cover up. He requests the assistance of his professor Dr. Hendricks (Gillian Anderson) who thinks he is brilliant along the lines of a Thomas Edison but doesn’t really want anything to do with a gifted guy prepared to risk his scholarship by flunking her class. But he is haunted by memories of a childhood sighting which his mother refused to acknowledge … Do you know how many threats the airport gets every day? It’s not quite correct to describe this as suspenseful because it doesn’t conform to the usual tenets of dramatic pitch:  rather it settles for a flat realist line mirroring the landscape, leaving the maths to do the talking.  What’s marvellous is the lo-fi approach of paper, pencils and calculators to try and decrypt the probability and navigate the universe. Anderson is cannily cast, linking her meta-fashion to The X-Files, a shortcut to the idea dominating the story: We Are Not Alone. An intriguing exercise of singular focus utilising real-life information and TV newscasts about a 2006 incident at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Written and directed by Ryan Eslinger with a smart score by West Dylan Thordson. They put the Fine Structure Constant in their message. The mathematical equations and graphs are a thing of beauty, no matter how impenetrable. Practically a Hipster PDA exercise in astrophysics. That’s Warren Beatty and Annette Bening’s son as Lee. The wavelength is the unit of the measurement – it IS co-ordinates

Enemy Mine (1985)

Enemy Mine

Do you think we really are alone out here? During a late 21st century a war between humans and the reptilian Drac race,Bilateral Terran Alliance (BTA) spaceship pilot Willis E. Davidge (Dennis Quaid) ends up stranded after their dogfight ends up with them both crash landing on alien planet Fyrine IV with enemy soldier Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr.). While both Willis and his Drac counterpart can breathe on the planet, the volcanic environment and its creatures are relatively hostile, forcing the two to trust each other and work together to survive. As time goes by, Willis and Jeriba become unlikely friends, though their unique relationship faces considerable challenges over three years and they save each other’s lives. Davidge dreams of spaceships and then sees human miners scavenging on the planet:  they have to avoided because they use Dracs as slaves. Then Jerry, who like all Dracs is asexual, reveals his pregnancy and dies in childbirth after bearing a baby son Zammis (Bumper Robinson) whom Davidge undertakes to raise and return to the Drac world … Don’t you ever get tired of reading that book?  Edward Khmara’s adaptation of Barry B. Longyear’s novella strains between creature feature and sci fi epic but succeeds on its own terms with a message of intrinsic humanity.  It harks back perhaps to the effects-laden production that was director Wolfgang Petersen’s previous outing, The Neverending Story, especially with Gossett’s lizard-like makeup, but the Why Can’t We All Just Get Along theme is well worked out in the inter-species friendship and Quaid is his typically charismatic self. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to find it touching. It looks great and the beautiful score is by Maurice Jarre. That’s why when we walk or when we hunt we always walk in the direction of the rising sun

High Life (2018)

High Life

Nothing can grow inside us. Monte (Robert Pattinson) and a baby girl called Willow (Scarlett Lindsey) are the last survivors of a dangerous mission on the edge of the solar system. He dumps bodies in astronaut suits into space and rears the child as he continues his work. Flashbacks reveal that it is a spaceship filled with prisoners, chief among them mad scientist Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who wants to breed a new generation of humans and gives the male criminals (André Benjamin, Ewan Mitchell) drugs in exchange for their semen on a trip that will not end in survival. Captain (Lars Eidinger) appears ineffectual while the women (Mia Goth, Claire Tran, Agata Buzek) resist male attention and don’t want to be forcibly impregnated. As the reproductive experiment takes shape a storm of cosmic rays hits the ship and tempers run high … You’ve become a shaman of sperm. Filmmakers can take a funny turn when they start making films in a language not their own. This screenplay by that singular director Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau with collaboration by Geoff Cox and additional writing credited to Andrew Litvack (and an uncredited contribution by Nick Laird) is a case in point as her first excursion into English is deeply strange and a reworking of many tropes and themes in the genre. For the first half hour you have to really like the sound of a baby crying;  the rest of the film is mostly about bodily fluids – their source, their harvesting, their destination – interspersed with acts of violence. Pattinson lends it his intensity but to what end? Well, a black hole, if you must know. Not so much a space mission as emission, this is really a hymn to onanism:  truly a mystery, all coming and no going in an exploration of sci-fi as inner space, in and out of hand. She is perfection

Deep Impact (1998)

Deep Impact.jpg

This is not a videogame, son. One year after teenage astronomer Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) spots a comet the size of Mount Everest heading for Earth, journalist Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) mistakes the scoop of a lifetime for a story about the mistress of the US President Beck (Morgan Freeman). Once she’s allowed into the loop of the Extinction Level Event with the rest of the press pack she finds that with one year to go before it could hit the planet there’s a plan to build a system of caves while a joint US/Russian spacecraft nicknamed Messiah being led by veteran astronaut Captain Sturgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) is going to try to intercept its path with nuclear weapons … People know you. They trust you. A disaster movie par excellence, this mixes up men on a mission and race against time tropes with ideas about God, friendship, family and the all-pervasive sense of doom that settles upon people learning of an entire planet’s imminent destruction and how they deal with it. Leoni doesn’t quite have the expressivity to offer a mature performance although her particular role is buttressed by the subplot of her unhappiness at her father Jason’s (Maximilian Schell) new marriage while her beloved mother Robin (Vanessa Redgrave) suffers. However the entire drama is well structured and tautly managed. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin (as a vague remake of When Worlds Collide, 1951) and expertly handled by Mimi Leder, better known for TV’s ER, some of whose alumni feature here. Let’s go home