“Arrival” of the Fittest

The Arrival
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Ron Silver, Teri Polo, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Schiff
Director: David Twohy
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi violence and terror, and for brief language

In the 1990s, the concept of global warming was beginning to gain credibility as a worldwide issue. In the mid-90s, Hollywood hypothesized the effects global warming could have in Waterworld, a film about a post-apocalyptic world where the polar ice caps have melted. Almost a year later, another film would explore global warming, albeit in a far different way. David Twohy’s science fiction thriller, The Arrival explored the notion that climate change was the product of something much more sinister.

Charlie Sheen stars as Zane Zaminsky, an astronomer working on the SETI project—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. With his partner Calvin (Richard Schiff), they discover a signal from a distant star. However, the signal is too brief for them to authenticate. They are unable to receive support from their boss (Ron Silver), who dismisses the signal as invalid. Obsessed with proving he’s correct, Zane sets up a home satellite system. He rediscovers the signal, only this time it is coming from Earth being sent into space. He tracks the signal to Mexico. He travels there where he meets Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse), a scientist investigating the dramatic and potential climate change that is plaguing the world. Following the signal’s destination, he uncovers an alien conspiracy, where aliens are pumping greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to raise the temperature. Realizing the alien signal and rising temperature are related, he sets out to expose the conspiracy to the world.

Charlie Sheen might not seem like the most likely choice to headline a science fiction thriller given his current status as star of television’s highest rated sitcom. But before sitcom stardom, Sheen proved his versatility by appearing in everything from sports and war films, to action and dramas. Indeed, as Zane, he proves he has the ability to tackle any role in any genre. He does an amazing job as a man obsessed and utterly paranoid, necessary for any leading star of a conspiracy tinged film.

Twists and turns abound in The Arrival. As with any movie dealing with conspiracies, no one can be trusted, and no one is who they appear to be. David Twohy, who pulled double duty as writer and director, has crafted a taut and engrossing story that pumps up the adrenaline and never slows down. It is more of a mystery story with elements of science fiction thrown into the mix. Sheen’s Zane character is essentially a detective hunting for the truth. It even contains elements of classic noir: a damsel in distress, a shady organization, and even a femme fatale, played perfectly by then unknown actress Teri Polo. As Zane delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, we are taken along for the ride as we try to solve the puzzle with him.

The Arrival has gained notoriety as a cult classic. It’s a great spin on the classic story of alien invasion and aliens living among us. Considering the film’s modest budget, the special effects are excellent, and effectively enhance the film as a whole. The Arrival is now available to own for under $5. Go to “Explore Catalog” and select “Steals for Under $5” for this and many other great films.


Waterworld, the other global warming science fiction film from the 1990s, was also written by David Twohy.

A “Splice” of Life

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Warner Bros.
Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language

If film history has taught us anything, it’s that science should never tamper with nature. From the early days of cinema with Frankenstein to modern films like Deep Blue Sea, scientists meddling with nature invariably results in disaster. Director Vincenzo Natali’s latest science fiction thriller, Splice, is no exception to the rule. Natali has crafted a suspenseful and intriguing film that has instant cult classic written all over it.

Scientists Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) have genetically engineered creatures from a variety of different animals in a process known as “splicing.” The purpose of these creatures is to take the best aspects of other animals in order to create a creature that produces certain proteins. These proteins can then be synthesized to develop drugs that can fight Alzheimer’s, cancer, and a variety of other diseases that plague mankind. Clive and Elsa want to take the next step—introduce human DNA into their experiment to achieve their goal. However, the pharmaceutical corporation that funds their research forbids them, ordering them to focus on their current experiment. Elsa convinces a reluctant Clive that they need to take the next step now while they have the opportunity. However, things don’t go as planned, as their new experiment soon gives birth to Dren (Delphine Chaneac), a human-animal hybrid. As Clive and Elsa struggle to hide her from their superiors, Dren begins to evolve much faster than anticipated, and soon develops violent tendencies that could threaten all of humanity.

As with other films where science goes wrong, the experiment is always initiated with the best of intentions. Clive and Elsa have a noble goal of wanting to cure human ailments, but their vision is short-sighted at best. Sarah Polley gives a versatile and disturbing, yet powerful performance as Elsa. She is completely obsessed with allowing Dren to live. Having grown up with an abusive mother, Elsa sees Dren as her chance to experience a childhood she never had. But Elsa’s family history rears its ugly head, and Elsa displays the abusive traits of her mother. Elsa and Dren’s relationship begins with great hope and love, but ultimately ends in tragedy.

Film history has shown that the “mad scientist” is often a man, so it is interesting to see here that Adrien Brody’s Clive would be the voice of reason, more often than not. However, he often proves too ineffectual. Though he objects to their experiment, he allows Elsa to push forward. His love and commitment to her prevent him from forcing her to stop. His love and commitment, though admirable, blind him from the horrors that are developing. Brody gives an excellent performance as the conflicted Clive, proving once again that he has the ability to take on any role in any genre.

With Splice, the true terror isn’t in the child-like Dren, but in the science itself. The concept of gene splicing is already happening in today’s scientific community. Science fact is rapidly catching up with science fiction—ideas like cloning and teleportation are now realities. Splice’s real horror comes from knowing that what is presented in the film might not be far off. As science and technology rapidly advance, the “what ifs” of science fiction become potential truths. Splice does a brilliant job of playing off this notion, effectively heightening the fear and suspense.

Splice isn’t a horror film, per se. It doesn’t have the conventions of a traditional horror film, but it does create the atmosphere of horror. Splice is the perfect way to kickoff October to lead up to all the thrills and chills of Halloween. Splice is now available to own on VUDU for under $10. For this and other movies of horrific science, go to “Explore Catalog” and select the collection “Science Gone Wrong!”


The characters of Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast are named after actors Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester. Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester co-starred in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein which is thematically similar to Splice.

Caught Up in “The Net”

The Net
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, Diane Baker
Director: Irwin Winkler
Sony Pictures
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and brief strong language

Before “The Social Network”, before “Catfish”, there was The Net, a cyber-thriller from 1995 that solidified Sandra Bullock as Hollywood’s next leading lady. Back when the Internet was just hitting the mainstream, The Net would prove to be highly prophetic, introducing us to the fear that our entire lives can be manipulated by a single keystroke.

Sandra Bullock stars at Angela Bennett, a computer software engineer and programming expert. She comes across software that gives her access to secret files and databases. What she mistakes for a glitch soon proves to be a much deeper conspiracy. She quickly finds herself on the run, as the conspirators have erased any and all records of her life, and replaced her identity with that of a criminal. With no one around to prove she is who she says, she sets out to clear her name by stopping the conspirators who threaten to control everyone’s lives.

Having previously been featured in supporting actress roles, 1995 was the year when Sandra Bullock made the leap to leading actress with roles in The Net and While You Were Sleeping. It turned out to be perfect timing, as While You Were Sleeping showed her romantic comedy side, and The Net showed she could handle drama and action. Bullock does an excellent job portraying someone whose world is falling apart. She’s fragile and vulnerable, but at the same time empowered and confident. She stays resolute, never letting her opponents get the better of her. She fights through the adversity, staying strong-willed. She is able to display a wide range of emotional complexity that many actors rarely display in their debuts as acting leads.

Also exceptional is Jeremy Northam who portrays Jack Devlin, the main antagonist to Sandra Bullock’s character. Making his American cinema debut, Northam’s Jack Devlin is a suave and dashing villain who first lulls Angela into a false sense of security. He uses his charm and finesse to seduce her and gain her trust. In an instant, he turns on her and reveals his true sinister nature. The charismatic and enchanting villain is never a role that is easy to pull off, and Northam does so without any sense of trepidation.

Computer graphics, systems, and the Internet have made significant technological advances since 1995. To watch this movie and see old operating systems, video games, and dial-up modems, which were quite ahead of their time then, are almost laughable by today’s standards. But the prophetic concepts of identity theft, invasion of privacy, and entrusting our lives to computers are still notions that plague the world today. Given that the Internet was in its infancy at the time the movie came out proves that The Net is a movie that can stand the test of time and still be an enjoyable thrill ride.

The Internet and cyberspace are rarely shown in a positive light in films. They are always gateways to danger and crime, as would be seen in later films such as Hackers, Antitrust, and Hard Candy. Even new films like “The Social Network” and “Catfish” now hitting theaters deal with the negative aspects of what the Internet can do. But always remember The Net was one of the first to do it. You can own The Net on VUDU for under $5. Go to “Explore Catalog” and select “Steals for Under $5” for this and other great titles.


The Net is a not-so-subtle endorsement for Apple/Macintosh computers. If you watch closely, all the good guys use Macs, while all the bad guys use PCs with Windows-based systems. Director Irwin Winkler is a huge Mac supporter, and this movie came out during the intense Mac/Windows rivalry of the 1990s.

“Monsters” – On VUDU Before Theaters!

Starring: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
Director: Gareth Edwards
Magnolia Pictures
Rated R for language

It has always been common for writers, actors, and cinematographers to branch out and try their hand as film directors. Several have gone on to do so with great success. In fact, it’s becoming so common that people from other fields are dipping their toes in the directing waters as well: choreographers, stunt coordinators, and visual effects artists to name a few. Gareth Edwards, a little know visual effects and digital artist, is the latest such person to take a chance in the director’s chair. His feature directorial debut, Monsters, is an odd yet brilliant marriage between love story, survival story, and alien invasion.

It is immediately established that six years ago, a NASA probe crash landed in Mexico carrying alien life from within our solar system. North America has been drastically altered, as the alien life forms (dubbed “the creatures”) have been contained in Mexico in a quarantined area known as “The Infected Zone.” The United States and Mexico have both constructed giant walls to keep “the creatures” contained within “The Infected Zone.” As this happens, a photographer named Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) who chronicles the aftermath of alien attacks is instructed by his employer to escort his daughter, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), back to the United States. She has recently been injured, and Andrew is told to get Samantha to a boat that will give her safe passage home. When they miss their opportunity to take the boat, they must travel through “The Infected Zone,” risking life and limb to get back home safely.

Monsters is at the same time masterful, suspenseful, and poignant. What is most interesting is that for a majority of the film, the aliens rarely make an appearance. Instead, the film follows the developing relationship between Andrew and Samantha. They are two mismatched people who are brought together under extreme circumstances. Andrew is clearly annoyed at the fact that he has become a glorified babysitter to get his boss’ daughter home. He wants nothing to do with Samantha, only wanting to focus on his job with the hopes of a big break. Samantha, however, doesn’t want to be seen as the stereotypical rich man’s daughter who gets by on her father’s money. But from their adversity eventually grows a great friendship out of the necessity to survive. They quickly realize they must rely on each other to get home, and as time passes, their relationship deepens into something more.

Actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able play wonderfully off each other. There is a real progression and believability in their relationship that forces the audience to become emotionally invested in them. We root for them to make it home safe and sound, and to live a happy life together. With every step they take on their perilous journey, we hope that the next turn around a corner won’t be their last.

Director Gareth Edwards wears many hats in his feature debut, not only as director, but also as writer, cinematographer, and visual effects artist. He accomplishes each role with style and finesse, coming off as someone who has been in his craft for decades. As Hollywood attempts to cram more and more CGI down our throats, it is a pleasure to become immersed in a film that doesn’t rely on CGI to carry it. The sparse use of CGI only serves to enhance its presence when it does appear. It is some of the most realistic CGI to appear on film, so to learn that this film was made on a shoestring budget of only $15,000 is to truly marvel at the quality of all aspects of the film.

Monsters is a must-see for those intrigued by the notion of Before Sunset meets “Jurassic Park” and District 9. If anything, it is worth it to see the amazing cinematography, most of which was shot guerilla-style on location in Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Now you can watch Monsters on VUDU from the comfort of your home before it hits theaters at the end of October.


While Scooter McNairy and Whitney Able are the only two credited actors, the film employed the work of hundreds of extras as the people they meet along the way. The extras who were featured were often people who just happened to be at that location when the movie was being filmed.

Dying from Laughter with “Defending Your Life”

Defending Your Life
Starring: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant
Director: Albert Brooks
Warner Bros.
Rated PG

Every religion has its own thoughts on the afterlife. The film industry likes to come up with its thoughts on the afterlife, as well. One of the most interesting and hilarious takes on the “next life” comes from 1991’s Defending Your Life, a romantic comedy from actor-writer-director Albert Brooks.

Albert Brooks is Daniel Miller who dies in an unfortunate accident on his birthday. He’s immediately transported to Judgment City, a modern-looking city where he learns he’ll be on trial for his life. In order to “move on”, he’ll have to prove that he was able to conquer his fears while on Earth, otherwise, he’ll be sent back to try again. While exploring one of the many amenities Judgment City has to offer, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep), a single mother who also died from an unfortunate accident. They hit it off and begin dating. Daniel soon realizes, though, that their lives on Earth were quite different. It becomes clear to him that Julia will most certainly move on, and that he will probably go back to Earth. Now he has to convince his judges that he deserves to move on so he can be with Julia.

Brooks’ humor is delightfully quirky, and his dialogue snaps with wit and sarcasm. The performances by all the actors are pure bliss. It’s a shame Brooks never became the comedic star he deserves to be. He brings great humor and depth to a character who is looking to be more than he can be, but is suffering the consequences from his previous life. Meryl Streep is amazing as Daniel’s love interest, Julia. She is clearly having a lot of fun with her character—a care-free, roll-with-the-punches type of person. She takes what is given to her and makes the most out of it. It’s a shame Meryl Streep doesn’t do many comedies. It becomes a treat, then, when she does show off her comedic chops. Rip Torn nearly steals the show as Bob Diamond, Daniel’s attorney. He brings great charisma to his role. His scenes with the opposing attorney (as played by the versatile Lee Grant) are to die for, as they exchange verbal jabs regarding Daniel’s life.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Defending Your Life is the setting itself. Judgment City is the place we all wish we could live (as long as we weren’t dead!). It’s as close to a perfect paradise as you can get. Everything’s free, you have your own hotel room, there is no shortage of activities, and the best part—all the food you could ever want to eat and you won’t gain a single pound. One of the more interesting activities revolves around the Past Lives Pavilion, where you can see who you were in all of your previous lives. This proves to be a very funny scene, as people are shocked and amazed by who they used to be.

Defending Your Life is a perfect romantic comedy that is sure to please. The soundtrack is catchy, light, and whimsical, and will have you humming it for days after you’ve finished the movie. Defending Your Life is now available on VUDU to own for under $5. For this, and other great films, go to “Explore Catalog” and select “Steals for Under $5”. This movie is a real treat, so don’t pass it up.


Albert Brooks is a true Hollywood renaissance man. He’s acted, written, and directed in seven films. He’s also an accomplished voice actor, having appeared in numerous episodes of “The Simpsons”, The Simpsons Movie, and Finding Nemo.