Welcome to the Future!


by Raymond L. Jones

Happy New Year and welcome to the future!  Whenever we start a new year, I always like to go back and see what people thought the future would be like.  While a visitor from the 1950s would be astounded by much of what we take for granted in 2020, they might still wonder why we don’t have a single lunar colony.

Here are just a few examples of what the pulp era expected from the future:

by Stanley Meltzoff

Artist Unknown

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Rudolph Belarski

by Ed Valigursky

Artist Unknown

by Elliott Dold

by Milton Luros

by John Forte Jr.

by Milton Luros

‘Annihilation’ Review (dir. Alex Garland)


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It has been quite some time since I last wrote a review. But sometimes a film hits the right notes and sits with you and the only way to shake it is by getting your thoughts out in writing. ’Annihilation’ was one of the first films in awhile to have that effect on me. I should preface this by saying that I’ve been waiting 3 years for its release ever since I read Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy. That it was going to be directed by Alex Garland only heightened that excitement. It is fitting that the last film I reviewed on this site was ‘Ex Machina’ – another Garland film that I loved and ended up being my favorite of that year. It might only be February but I can honestly say I could see ‘Annihilation’ taking that spot this year.

Alex Garland has stated that he read the first book of the ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy – from which the film gets its title – only once and then wrote the screenplay as if remembering a dream. To him it was a “dream like” book – one that would be hard to adapt outright. So he wrote the screenplay as if recalling a dream – attempting to capture the tone but also offering up his own interpretation of the story.  I think that you could say that this is also how I approached this review. I’ve only seen the film once and in writing this it  really was like trying to remember a dream. The film is so layered and so visceral of an experience that to discuss it without multiple viewings doesn’t quite do it justice, because like a dream you only remember what stood out, the parts that affected you the most and things might get overlooked. Those things might not be the same for everyone so my interpretation of it may not mirror what others have thought – it might also just seem like pseudo intellectual babel! But I’ll do my best.

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It would be damn near impossible to describe the plot of the film in any great detail without spoiling it but I will do my best to set it up. The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena – an ex army soldier turned biology professor. When we first meet her she is still grieving her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who was also in the military. He was sent on a mission a year prior and there has been no word of his status since. That is until one evening when he turns up to their house, his memory hazy, his explanation of his disappearance unclear. Before long he begins to have seizures and Lena rushes him to the hospital only to be intercepted by the Southern Reach – a secret government agency – and taken to a secure location.

There they explain to Lena that years prior something seemingly extraterrestrial crashed into the coastline. In subsequent days and weeks after the crash a shimmering pearl and translucent bubble began to grow and expand covering miles of swampland. It doesn’t seem to ever stop expanding and its presence is being monitored and kept secret. Their fear is that if it continues to grow at its current pace, it’ll eventually end up engulfing populated areas. They have sent in multiple exploratory teams over the years, consisting of trained military forces – to discover what lies within but none have returned. The prevailing theory/rumor? Something either killed them or they went crazy and killed each other. Lena learns that her husband – now on life support and quickly fading – was a part of one of those missions and is the first member to ever return. Determined to find out what happened – and possibly save him – Lena volunteers to join four other women on the next expedition into what the organization calls the “Shimmer”.

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From there what Garland creates is a cerebral – at times haunting – sci-fi masterpiece. To me ‘Annihilation’ works brilliantly as two things. First as a genre film in the vein of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Alien’. It is at times bone chillingly eerie with a persistent sense of unease and paranoia from start to finish – and it contains one scene with a bear that is one of the more frightening scenes I’ve seen in awhile. This side of it raises a lot of questions about genetics, bioengineering and the effects of outside forces on an ecosystem. You could take it as a climate change allegory where human interference has altered the environment and now it has turned on them.

Second – and more importantly –  it is a metaphysical examination of depression, self destruction – and in my eyes – renewal that has ties to Tarkovsky and Kubrick. It is a film about characters dealing with issues that hang over them like a dark cloud. Addiction, the loss of a child, self harm, cancer. Each and every one of them goes on this mission not just because they want to know what lies within the Shimmer – but also because the unknown is better than what they currently know. In an almost subconscious way – and for some very conscious  – the threat of death doesn’t scare them and it perhaps would be a release. Once inside they are faced with an ever increasing state of anxiety. They can’t trust their eyes or their thoughts. Eventually even their bodies turn on them. Are they even any longer in control? Will they ever escape or be able to go back to being who or what they were before entering? Or will they be consumed by the Shimmer – the dark cloud that hangs over them?

For Lena specifically, the deeper she goes the more the Shimmer takes effect, the weight of guilt and grief consuming her, until she nears a breaking point. By the film’s end she must effectively confront herself head one – and for many people with depression that “self” is their worst enemy as it is here. She can’t get away from it, at one point it is literally suffocating and crushing the more she fights. It isn’t until she stops fighting that she is able to overcome. But still the question lingers – even once we get through the darkest moments in our life – when we shed that grief, guilt, loss or sadness – are we still the same? Has the effects of those things, of the Shimmer, changed us forever for better or for worse? That I think it open to interpretation. For me I found the ending hopeful. There was a sense of renewal, or rebirth, in the same way as ‘2001’ and the Starchild or the Titan-esque Ryan Stone crawling out of the “primordial soup” in the end of ‘Gravity’.

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Production wise I’d say the film is a marvel. The CGI is used to great effect creating a dreamy, gorgeous and colorful landscape. Garland has mentioned that although the film is set in Florida they shot the film in the UK and made the sets look like swampland. It is a minor production detail that I found interesting and in a way one that helps in making the Shimmer feel more unnatural. The score is equal parts hypnotic and kinetic. The finale in particular had my skin crawling as the images on screen danced along with the pounding score.

The two biggest complaints I have heard about the film are the pacing and the narrative structure. Neither bothered me. The pace was at times slow – but it felt deliberate as if building towards something great – which very much paid off. There are quiet moments but all serving a purpose to either further the progression of the story and Lena’s arc – or to build a sense of unease. As far as the structure of the film – which consists of flashbacks and jumps between the past and present – it didn’t hinder the film in any way. And to be quite honest, given the feeling of the unknown, I enjoyed the slow revelation of Lena’s past along with the questions about Lena’s state of mind in the present that the structure produced. One must remember she is an unreliable narrator at that point – something that I think could be rewarded with multiple viewings

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I do highly recommend that everyone see this on the big screen- especially because love it or hate it, we need to support these sorts of films. The studio already gave up on ‘Annihilation’ before it was even released. It won’t hit theaters overseas and hasn’t even opened in a lot of theaters in the US which is a shame.

Ultimately for me ‘Annihilation ‘ was a film that was as earthly – almost cosmic – as it was intimate. It is a horror story about how we change the world around us and how it changes us – as well as a fascinating examination of depression, anxiety and overcoming self destruction. It is a divisive film for sure. It won’t click with everyone and many will outright hate it. Even those that love it might not walk away with the same impression as I did. But that to me is the sign of a truly great film – one that is subversive, layered and truly unafraid to take risks.

One Hit Wonders #9: “In the Year 2525” by Zager & Evans (RCA 1969)


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A futuristic ballad about the danger of technological advancement and dehumanization spent 6 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts in 1969. Properly titled “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, this was the first and only hit for folk-rock duo Denny Zager and Rick Evans:

1969 had been a banner year for science fiction themes, with the films PLANET OF THE APES and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY becoming box office hits a year earlier, popular novels from Kurt Vonnegut (SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE), Michael Crichton (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN), and Ursula K. LeGuin (LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS) being published, and a young Brit named David Bowie releasing his LP “Space Oddity”. Of course, that was also the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and the possibilities for space exploration seemed endless. But some doomsayers warned of the impending takeover by machines, where mankind would become a slave…

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Halloween Havoc!: THEM! (Warner Brothers 1954)


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The iconic, bloodcurdling scream of little Sandy Descher heralds the arrival of THEM!, the first and best of the 50’s “Big Bug” atomic thrillers. Warner Brothers had one of their biggest hits of 1954 with this sci-fi shocker, putting it up there with Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN, Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER, and Wellman’s THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY as their highest-grossing films of the year. Not bad company for director Gordon Douglas , previously known for his work with Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy! THEM! was also Oscar nominated that year for its special effects (and should’ve been for Bronislaw Kaper’s terrific score).

The movie begins with the look and feel of a noir mystery courtesy of DP Sidney Hickox’s (DARK PASSAGE, THE BIG SLEEP  , WHITE HEAT) brooding shadows and sandstorm-battered landscape. New Mexico policemen Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn come across a little girl wandering…

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Horror Film Review: Strange Invaders (dir by Michael Laughlin)


In 1983, two years after the release of Strange Behavior, director Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon teamed up for another “strange” film.  Like their previous collaboration, this film was a combination of horror, science fiction, and satire.

The title of their latest collaboration?

Strange Invaders.

Strange Invaders opens in the 1950s, in a small, all-American town in Illinois.  Innocent children play in the street.  Clean-cut men stop off at the local diner and talk to the waitress (Fiona Lewis, the scientist from Strange Behavior).  Two teenagers (played by the stars of Strange Behavior, Dan Shor and Dey Young) sit in a car and listen to forbidden rock’n’roll music.  A lengthy title crawl informs us that, in the 1950s, Americans were happy and they were only worried about three things: communists, Elvis, and UFOs.  On schedule, a gigantic UFO suddenly appears over the town.

Twenty-five years later, mild-mannered Prof. Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) teaches at a university and wonders just what exactly is going on with his ex-wife, Margaret (Diana Scarwid).  In order to attend her mother’s funeral, Margaret returned to the small Illinois town where she grew up.  When she doesn’t return, Charles decides to go to the town himself.  However, once he arrives, he discovers that the town appears to still be stuck in the 50s.  The townspeople are all polite but strangely unemotional and secretive.  Charles immediately suspects that something strange is happening.  When the towns people suddenly start shooting laser beams from their eyes, Charles realizes that they must be aliens!

Fleeing from the town, Charles checks all the newspapers for any reports of an alien invasion.  The only story he finds is in a cheap tabloid, The National Informer.  The author of the story, Betty Walker (Nancy Allen), claims that she just made the story up but Charles is convinced that she may have accidentally told the truth.  At first, Betty dismisses Charles as being crazy.  But then she’s visited by an Avon lady who looks just like the waitress from the small town and who can shoot laser beams.

Teaming up, Charles and Betty investigate the aliens and try to figure out just what exactly they’re doing on Earth.  It’s an investigation that leads them to not only a shadowy government operative (Louise Fletcher) but also a man (Michael Lerner) who claims that, years ago, he helplessly watched as his family was destroyed by aliens.

Like Strange Behavior, Strange Invaders is a … well, a strange film.  I have to admit that I prefer Behavior to Invaders.  The satire in Strange Invaders is a bit too heavy-handed and Paul Le Mat is not as strong a lead as Michael Murphy was in the first film.  I was a lot more impressed with Nancy Allen’s performance, if just because I related to both her skepticism and her sudden excitement to discover that her fake news might actually be real news.  I also liked Micheal Lerner, so much so that I almost wish that he and Le Mat had switched roles.  Finally, I have to say that Diana Scarwid’s performance was so bizarre that I’m not sure if she was brilliant or if she was terrible.  For her character, that worked well.

Strange Invaders gets better as it goes along.  At the start of the film, there are some parts that drag but the finale is genuinely exciting and clever.  If the film starts as a parody of 1950s alien invasion films, it ends as a satire of Spielbergian positivity.  It’s an uneven film but, ultimately, worth the time to watch.