Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind


Angels and aliens.

(2020) Documentary (1091) Dr. Steven M. Greer, Jeremy Piven (narrator), Daniel Sheehan, Adam Michael Curry, Stephen Tyler, Tom DeLonge, Joe Martino, Dr. Russell Torg, Jan Harzan, Jim Martin, Marcel Vidovic, Richard Doty, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, David Marconi, Ignacio Mollere, Marian Kramer, Raven Nabulsi. Directed by Michael Mazzola

 

Steven M. Greer has made a name for himself as a proponent for the idea that UFOs are real and aliens are visiting the Earth. Now, mind you, I don’t particularly find the idea all that far-fetched; after all, the odds are in a universe the size and age of ours that there are going to be life on other planets, perhaps far more advanced from a technological standpoint than our own.

Certainly, according to Greer, the government has been taking the idea very seriously. According to his new documentary, a sequel (of sorts) to his previous works Sirius and Unacknowledged there has been a conspiracy of disinformation by the government, aided and abetted by the mass media, to whip up fear that the aliens are out to get us. He links President Trump’s call for a “space force” to this mindset, arguing that the motivation for this is to create a one-world hegemony whose purpose is to go to war with extraterrestrials.

He constantly uses the term “national security state” to describe this government-media collusion. Greer, a former physician, has given up medicine to take up this crusade. He has a fairly large group of followers, including noted constitutional lawyer Daniel Sheehan, Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler  and former Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge in his corner. He does show a lot of grainy clips of lights moving about in the sky which are not unlike the UFO clips of 50 years ago.

Greer and his supporters make some compelling arguments, but as the film progresses it becomes more of a paranoid conspiracy theory shitshow. There’s also a good deal of mystical content, talking about contacting aliens through meditation and using a sort of telepathy to “call” the aliens to our spot in the galaxy. It’s at points like that in which I find my eyes beginning to roll uncontrollably.

I am an open-minded skeptic when it comes to paranormal phenomenon, up to and including ghosts, life after death, UFOs and so on. I have no illusions that we as humans know everything there is to know about the universe and I will grant that it’s possible that these things exist. HOWEVER, if you want to convince someone like me, you have to at least come off sounding reasonable and logical. Sheehan manages to do so, but the longer the film goes, the more Greer – who seems to be an intelligent and reasonable guy when this begins – starts to sound like he’s gone a little further around the bend than he should.

I have a streak of Missourian in me. Show me the facts. Don’t try to dazzle me with lofty and unprovable theories. Greer claims he has directly communicated with alien lifeforms. I am willing to believe him…if only he didn’t end up sounding like a cross between a new age hippie and a paranoid militia member.

The title refers to the series of protocols that were partially explained in Steven Spielberg’s classic movie. Close encounters of the first kind are a sighting of an extraterrestrial object within 500 feet. Close encounters of the second kind are physical evidence left by one of these objects. Close encounters of the third kind are the sighting of an extraterrestrial being. A close encounter of the fourth kind is a human being taken aboard an alien spacecraft. Finally, a close encounter of the fifth kind is human-initiated contact. That is what Greer’s organization is attempting, and I think it’s truly a laudable goal. At times, he (and especially Sheehan) make their case well. I just wish they would have presented themselves with a little less hysteria.

REASONS TO SEE: Greer comes off as very intelligent.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses credibility.
FAMILY VALUES: There is occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Greer got involved in the alien intelligence/UFO community after a near-death experience in his teen years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Love and Saucers
FINAL RATING: 5/10
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Portals


I always thought the end of the world would come with giant floating cell phones.

(2019) Sci-Fi Horror (Screen MediaNeil Hopkins, Ptolemy Slocum, Deanna Russo, Ruby O’Donnell, Phet Mahathongdy, Paul McCarthy-Boyington, Gretchen Lodge, Georgina Blackledge, Keith Hudson, Sergio Martinez, Shellye Broughton, Michele Weaver, Reina Guthrie, Albert A. Vega, Clint Jung, Dare Emmanuel, Natasha Gott, Salvita Decorte. Directed by Gregg Hale, Liam O’Donnell, Eduardo Sanchez and Timo Tjahjanto

How will the world end? Will it be due to an outside agency, a passing meteor perhaps or a solar event? Or will we do it to ourselves, through our own hubris or in some misguided although earnest attempt to make things better? Portals posits that it will be both.

This anthology film has three segments, along with a prologue/epilogue sequence that initially begins as an interview segment with two of the scientists involved in an attempt to create a black hold here on earth, an incredibly dangerous idea that turns out to have unanticipated but bizarre consequences; it creates a worldwide blackout as the power grid is overloaded, followed by the appearance of mysterious monoliths that look like a combination of the rectangular objects from 2001: A Space Odyssey and giant cell phones.

These cell phones (complete with trippy light effects) turn out to be doorways that people can walk through, although not all people and with varying results for those who do. While most are terrified of these buzzing, humming portals, some are able to communicate with them telepathically and insist that their purpose is benign. Of course, that turns out to be not the case.

The three main segments involve a family fleeing during a mandatory evacuation; father Adam (Hopkins) drives his wife (Russo) and daughter (R. O’Donnell) to grandmother’s house, only to literally run into one of these portals on a lonely desert highway. This segment – which is interspersed throughout the film as a kind of linking narrative – then adjourns to a hospital where Adam is constantly told by a pair of doctors that he’s “lucky to be alive” and his repeated attempts to see his family go unheeded. He also has had one of his eyes replaced by a black orb similar to the material in the portals.

The second segment – co-directed by The Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez – involves an overwhelmed call center during the height of the blackout. The various 911 operators cope in different ways, some terrified about their inability to reach their own families, others citing some sort of grand global conspiracy theory. When one of the portals appears in the call center, the conspiracy theorist (McCarthy-Boyington) gets it into his head that the people of the call center have to pass through the portal. Since they are reluctant to do it on their own, he pulls a gun (one wonders how he managed to get a gun into a call center that has an electronic locking system that keeps them trapped inside the center during the ordeal) and forces them to do it with, again, varying results.

The third segment begins a few minutes before the blackout begins in an underground parking garage in Djakarta where two sisters (Gott, Decorte) argue about each other’s life choices but once the blackout begins have a lot worse things to worry about – the sudden appearance of a portal and the attack of zombie-like Malaysians who insist on putting one of the sisters through the portal.

What are these portals? Where do they lead to? What is their purpose? Why are they here? What does it really matter anyway?

The film is pretty light on explanation, heavy on exposition and liberally laced with some fairly graphic bloody violence. Unlike most horror anthologies, the individual sequences are part of a larger story and while told out of chronological order, are about as well-linked as any anthology you’re ever likely to see. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that like most anthologies, the quality is fairly uneven. The garage-set sequence is pretty poorly acted and feels like it came from another film entirely; it is so out of step from the other sequences that it is almost jarring. For an anthology like this one to work, the stories have to integrate and that sequence does not. The call center and fleeing family sequences mesh much better together.

Gorehounds will be happy with exploding heads, face melting and eye gouging effects. The portals themselves are nicely done, even if they do look like giant cell phones. They convey an overt sense of menace, although I think the movie might have worked better if the intentions of the portals had been less discernible. The fact that the portals are malevolent works against the movie overall and if there was more of a vagueness as to whether the portals were benign or not (as happened with the call center sequence) it would have heightened the tension of the film, although I suppose that it would have made the zombies of the garage sequence a bit superfluous.

I liked the concept of the film, even if it didn’t make a whole lot of logical sense the way it was described. Also, the idea of forming artificial black holes is nonsensical; black holes are incredibly dangerous and would likely crush the planet the instant one formed. Why would a scientist deliberately try to create one, let alone a team of scientists? With all those people involved who understand physics at least to a certain extent, wouldn’t someone have objected?

Then again, it’s never a wise idea to look too deeply into logic when it comes to genre films. Your best bet is to just go with it and enjoy the film for what it is. While I don’t think this is going to go down as a perennial Halloween classic, it will at least give horror fans a little something different to consider.

REASONS TO SEE: The concept is intriguing.
REASONS TO AVOID: The execution isn’t quite there.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some gruesome images and some bloody violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was co-produced by the cinematic arm of the Bloody Disgusting website.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/26/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews: Metacritic: 26/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Devil’s Gate
FINAL RATING: 5/10
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