Monday, March 24, 2014

The Arrival


Joseph, my manager, and Madame Rose, my publicist, have been working like the proverbial beavers, lining up an appropriate assortment of products for my very first infomercial. It’s absolutely necessary to have things quite ready in order to take advantage of my cover story in the next issue of Infomercial Today , the industry trade periodical. Contracts are coming my way from House O'Hair wigs, made from the finest imported polyester, and available in such luscious colors as 'Autumn Sonata Sunrise', 'Arthur Ash Blonde' and 'Hazelden Recovery'. I have never been much of a wig girl, except when filming, but they will be a bit of a necessary fashion accessory as my current close crop, courtesy of those tapping tots and their bad aim, takes its time growing out.

Another exciting opportunity has come from Hasbeenbro toys. They are most interested in developing a series of collector dolls, based on me and my legendary looks. The Mrs. Norman Maine Doll (suggested retail $39.95) would start with 'Victorian Vicki', dressed in antebellum hoopskirt with parasol (based on my famous costume from Twelve Oaks Tap Shoes ); 'Vengeance Vicki', in rose satin, (based on my appearance as Tamora, Queen of Goths in  as The King and Eye for an Eye ); and 'Vatican Vicki', with removable chasuble, cassock, and miter (based on my immortal costume from Pope Joan ). With these and the wigs, GlamourPuss couture gowns and VickiWear, I'm sure I'll be able to fill well over an hour.

Wigs and hair were very much on my mind, as I later perused the DVD sale bin at the local discount house. The DVD of The Arrival caught my eye. Charlie Sheen, the star, appeared on the cover with one of the worst haircuts to ever grace a leading man, at least since the days of the 1970s shag, so I knew I had to give this one a look. I promptly raced it home and settled down on an ottoman in my absolutely gorgeous home theater with a large bowl of popcorn, ready to enjoy the mysteries of male coiffure.

The Arrival is modern science fiction and a true bad hair movie. Charlie Sheen sports a side-shaved brush cut that’s supposed to make him look just a tad nerdy as he's playing a scientist. The bad haircut and the glasses, however, end up making him look like the single man at the end of the block who still lives with his mother and whom the neighbors warn their children against. I was rather disappointed to find out that he’s not supposed to be some sort of pedophilic psychopath, but rather Zane Zaminski, an astronomer or an astrophysicist (or maybe an astrologer - it's not entirely clear) who spends his time scanning the heavens with a radio telescope on a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program. One night, he and his partner Calvin (Richard Schiff in an early Gavin MacLeod hairdo) run across a massive outer space signal. Zane brings this to the attention of his boss down at the physics lab (Ron Silver in what looks like an evangelist helmet toupee) who, instead of praising him, fires him. Budget cuts and all that.

Zane then finds himself forced out of his chosen field of endeavor and takes a job as a satellite dish installer/repair person. Convinced he's on to something, he uses a film montage, a bunch of Home Depot detritus, and some fairy lights to convert his neighbors' satellite dishes into a jury rigged radio telescope. Zane locks in again on his mystery signal, this time finding it emanating from earth near a small Mexican radio station. He goes haring off to Mexico in search of the source, much to the consternation of his girlfriend, Char (Teri Polo in a bad blonde streak job).

Meanwhile, another scientist, Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse in a lesbian pixie) who studies global warming, is also led to the same region in Mexico. Her data shows incredible concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the area. We meet her early on in a nifty prologue involving Iceland poppies in the artic that is as well constructed, as it is unexpected in this type of film. Zane and Ilana, of course, meet, run afoul of various locals (usually sporting bad Jeri curls or classic military dictatorship razor cuts) and swap notes and clues. All is not as it seems and Zane seems pretty certain that something involving aliens, and not just the illegal kind, may be afoot.

I won't detail much more of the plot as I don't want to spoil all the surprises and there are actually quite a few. The centerpiece of the film, and director/writer David Twohy's tour de force, is Zane's infiltration of a power plant. The sequence is about fifteen minutes long, has not a word of dialogue, but with good performances and good visual storytelling, gives us all the information we need and keeps the suspense level ratcheted up to high. The third act of the film, keeps the surprises going, but has a few set pieces that are lazy, considering the strength of the earlier portions, going for standard female in distress and chase sequences and explosions when something cleverer could have been done. It also features electronic equipment that keeps functioning for plot purposes and arcing sparks during a fight in a building whose power has been cut.

There is a subplot with a precocious next-door neighbor pre-adolescent (Tony T. Johnson in a basic afro) that allows the audience to be filled in with the technical info they need by having him ask the requisite stupid questions. Having a ten year old ask the questions, however, doesn't insult the audience’s intelligence and this plot makes a surprising turn late in the film giving it some reason to be.

The special effects are decent, considering the 'B' movie budget and fairly inventive. There are metal balls that become whirling vortices of energy, sucking up better than your average dust buster (I want a few for Madame Jerry, my housekeeper- she has trouble with those hard to reach places), mysterious, cavernous installations, and a wonderful little scene involving a bunch of scorpions that is extremely well choreographed and gives an unexpected frisson at the end. The only real disappointment are the aliens themselves, who look a bit like the kangaroo men from Tank Girl after they've been shaved and stored in a dehydrator.

Twohy doesn't try to make the film into anything it's not and the whole thing hangs together pretty well. He even keeps Ron Silver from chewing the scenery too badly. Charlie Sheen is actually believable as the hero, especially in his long, wordless sequence where everything is expressed with body language and eyes. The weakest link is Teri Polo but she has the most cliché part as the damsel in distress. Twohy went on from this to make Pitch Black , another little 'B' movie with its own unique sci-fi charms.

Mariachi radio. Satellite dishes. Skeleton marionettes. Falling bathtubs. Gratuitous candlelight procession. Volkswagen taxi. Landscaping assassins. Gratuitous peoplesicles. Giant antenna collapse.

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