Skip to main content

Actually, I look like a can of smashed assholes.

The Arrival
(1996)

(SPOILERS) I’m mostly an advocate of David Twohy’s oeuvre, from his screenplay for Warlock (Richard E Grant as an action hero!) onwards. In particular, like a number of writers turned aspiring directors (David Koepp, Scott Frank, the Gilroys) he has also shown himself to be proficient behind the camera. His Riddick movies (albeit only the first half of the third) are enjoyably B-ridden, while A Perfect Getaway is giddily delirious confection. I’d managed to mostly forget The Arrival, however, so with another similarly titled science fiction picture incoming, it seemed like a good time for a 20th anniversary revisit. The most surprising aspect is that, while Twohy’s direction is competent and script serviceable, this is Charlie Sheen’s movie through-and-through. In a good way.


That’s Charlie Sheen pre-tiger’s blood (here his character, the ludicrously named Zane Zaminsky even states “I don’t like blood”), also a few years shy of finding a more profitable home on television, at which point he mostly shed his rocky movie career. A couple of years earlier, he’d played a “maverick skydiver” in Personal Velocity, which Twohy also wrote, but his biggest mark was as Topper Harley in deux Hot Shots! movies. In The Arrival, Sheen appears to be channelling something of that absurdist Zucker streak, albeit flip-flopped; there he was the straight man, while here it’s the surrounding movie. The imdb storyline refers to Zane as a “mild-mannered astronomer” which is entirely far from the case. Sheen’s mad-factor is off the scale, and he’s about as likely an astronomer as Chris Hemsworth is a computer hacker. As the daffy inverse to the following year’s CERN-adulating, oh-so-reverent Contact, The Arrival has a certain something going for it.


Phil Gordian: Right now, you’re just one little guy with a big conspiracy theory, and the world is full of them.

The picture isn’t, however, a piece on a par with that other low budget movie concerning an alien invasion featuring a pig-headed hero out to convince an ignorant world of the threat under their very noses (They Live!) There’s no great subtext here on consumerism and how we have willingly enslaved ourselves. There isn’t even an attractively labyrinthine alien conspiracy à la The X-Files, in which the government has colluded with the ETs. These guys are operating on their own. About as close as the picture gets to anything topical is that the invaders are taking advantage of mankind’s aptitude for environmental destruction by accelerating global warming (“If you can’t tend to your own planet, none of you deserve to live here”).


Indeed, the opening shot, a pullback as climatologist Ilana Green (Lindsay Crouse, lending the proceedings a bit of class, until she tries to seduce Charlie, anyway) comes across a poppy field in the Arctic, suggests a more intricate, involved and uncanny scenario than the one we get. It turns out to be rather more mundane, in terms of conveniently positioned (in roles of authority) aliens putting the kibosh on investigations into their activities (as such, the always welcome Ron Silver shows up in two different roles). The aliens themselves are a variant on the familiar Grey, disappointingly CGI-heavy, but appealingly offbeat in at least one design element; their legs that bend backwards at the knee, like an alarming combination of Pan and a grasshopper.


Twohy uses some cliché elements to the movie’s advantage, such that the juvenile sidekick (Tony J Johnston) turns out to be one of the bad guys, and the suspicious-acting girlfriend (Teri Polo) is discovered not to be bad at all. And, with a budget still many times that of They Live!’s (albeit relatively middling), the picture ends on a relatively low-key note, with a quest to broadcast the truth of the aliens presence across news networks (not that that would probably convince anyone of anything; see also Joe Dante’s Network-spoofing ending to The Howling). Coming out the same summer as Independence Day, it’s probably little surprise that blockbuster’s OTT fireworks went down many times better.


Mostly, though, The Arrival’s appeal is all about the absurdity that is Charlie Sheen strung out and living on the edge. Be it sporting a variety of sunglasses (not alien-seeing ones, alas), running incongruously shirtless through crowded streets during Day of the Dead celebrations in pursuit of an alien, having just escaped flattening by stray bathtub (the Mexico scenes add notable production value), hacking through the unconvincingly sparse bush with a machete, disguising himself as a Mexican (and looking bizarrely like Robert Picardo in the process), or reeling off one-liners (“Do you want to see the ruins, my friend?” he asks an alien before pushing it to its death; “Here’s a tip… If you ever get the chance to travel with a Mexican rodeo… pass”), Charlie is in on invincible form. As such, he fares much, much better than Crouse, who struggles to convince us she needs an explanation for what terraforming is, and that “I get so damned apocalyptic when I’m drunk”.


Any movie with a line as insane as “Actually, I look like a can of smashed assholes” deserves a free pass on that basis alone. The Arrival is no great shakes, all in all, but reliably revels in its sheer B-ness. If it had made more of Charlie going the full Bruce Campbell, and reflected that in the plotting, it might have attained the status of minor cult classic.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.