drama, mystery, sci-fi, Uncategorized

Arrival

arrival

Arrival, 2016

Shoutout to Camelot Cinemas for not playing trailers? I was barely late to see Arrival – my friend’s dog had a pee incident, and then Ben (the dog’s human) had to pee. By the time we walked into the theatre, a few minutes after the listed showtime, the movie had started. But what was a disorienting experience only enhanced an already disorienting start to a film. Arrival is all about Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is recruited by the US military to communicate with aliens. Twelve shells (“What we call the UFO”) landed all over our planet. Why are they here? Who/what is inside them? And what is the purpose? These are all questions, or, as Dr. Banks would explain, quests to answers, Arrival hopes to explain. Frankly there’s lots of quests to answers throughout Denis Villeneuve’s latest two hours.

Still, I could see this movie 20 more times and never grow tired. It’s beautifully shot, well paced, and explores countless questions that are eerily pertinent today (insert spoiler thought here about a link between Dr. Banks and Villeneuve). Even the soundtrack, with its occasional far-t00-THX intro sounding segments, is gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeous, the alien language is, too. I could question why Louise’s hair was naturally wavy but straight when she chatted with aliens… are we really supposed to believe in her 10 minutes to pack she grabbed a straightener, and are we also supposed to believe that she’s fixing her hair mid-global crisis? But alas, the only true complaint I have would be regarding the very long scene in which Dr. Banks, physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker using a frustrating “accent”), etc first go into the shell together. Yes, it was a powerful, crucial moment but after what seemed like half an hour the aliens could have had my own face on them and I would not have been impressed.

It’s the time of year when the studio’s arguably award-season worthy films begin showing. In other words, it’s the most wonderful time of year. And while there are plenty of things to watch, I think Arrival is what I needed. It’s distracting, it’s empathetic, it’s thought-provoking and not in a controversial way but in one that makes you shrug positively and think of who to watch it with next. Whether or not you like aliens or Amy Adams or the awkwardly shaped shells (which, yes, you will grow to love), I would say, “See Arrival.” It’s a worthy cinematic escape.

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action, adventure, sci-fi

Jurassic World

Jurassic World. 2015

Jurassic World. 2015

Let’s make this clear- I never saw any Jurassic Park film before seeing Jurassic World last night. I had no nostalgia, no longing, and no expectations going into this. While I recognized some nods to the franchise, I know I missed countless homages. And while it made my viewing experience undoubtedly different from nearly any American over six years old, I think my thoughts are valuable since I’m, as Indominus Rex would assume, fresh blood. In short, the film is intended to be a sort of sequel to the original Jurassic Park, and after 22 years a successful park has finally been established. Consumers are easily underwhelmed, though, and creating new species has become the park’s way of keeping park goers happy. For two hours you watch the consequences of having a genetically modified dinosaur on the loose.

World was, without question, gorgeous, and not necessarily in the way it’s filmed but rather in the execution of the look of it all. It’s a fantasy I wanted so badly to fall into. There’s a petting zoo for kids to ride what I can only hope are docile dinos, rides and dinosaur shaped balloons, a sort of Sea World situation with a large sea dinosaur that eats sharks… At one point  I turned to Jurassic Park enthusiast and co-viewer Trent to whisper, “I wouldn’t like this park,” as if we had the opportunity to plan a trip there. (Sidenote: The reason I wouldn’t like it is because I’m scared around dogs I don’t know, let alone prehistoric species.) The extreme factor of activities is one of many things in the movie that jerks you from the fantasy– could Owen (Chris Pratt) really stroke those raptors with no consequence? Who would seriously take a safari through a field of animals they have never seen before? But the film starts sans credits and makes this park so familiar in structure that you buy those things. The characters’ actions, on the other hand, not so much.

We’re introduced to several characters, nearly all with a unique (albeit underdeveloped) motive for working at the park, but once Indominus Rex (their latest creation) is running around, the focus is all on the action. You’ve met Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) before– she’s the woman whose only focus is profit, and therefore she’s estranged from anyone who’s tried to care for her. Her nephews (Zach [Nick Robinson] and the too adorable Gray [Ty Simpkins], who happens to carry matches around) are in town to see her and visit the park, but she puts her assistant in charge of them and only looks for the boys once a monster is on the loose. Meanwhile, the park she manages is, sometimes literally, up in flames. Am I supposed to believe Claire would so willingly leave that control room for two kids she hasn’t seen in seven years? Meanwhile, dino whisperer Owen is off to find those kids while probably secretly hoping he can save every dinosaur first. As the two of them run throughout the park, Owen’s vest/shirt combo remains totally fine, while Claire’s bob went from straight and with bangs to perfectly curly and side-swept because of sweat. Of course. There were plenty of articles mentioning Howard wearing heels throughout the film but who cares about that when that slit just happens?

The action sequences, like the park, are stunning. I nervous-ate through 1/3 of World, cheering for the survival of creatures that no longer exist. My dinosaur knowledge, as I’m sure you could’ve guessed by reading this much, goes as deep as the characters’ names in The Land Before Time, but I became so invested when Indominus Rex turned the corner (or, came from nowhere). World is a summer spectacle that won’t challenge or inspire you, but will entertain you for two hours. That’s worth the cost of a ticket.

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drama, sci-fi

Ex Machina

Ex Machina, 2015

Ex Machina, 2015

Immediately we know that Ex Machina‘s main character, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), is being watched. Because of this, and maybe somewhat because of the horror previews I saw just before, I was tense through all 108 minutes of Alex Garland’s film. How could something not go wrong? Caleb works as a programmer for Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine, and wins a contest to visit the home of its founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), for one week. Nathan lives in what appears to be the middle of a North Face ad– surrounded by nature in a massive smart home that also serves as his “research facility.” Since creating Bluebook at the age of 13, Nathan has had plenty of time to grow his ego and work on his next project, creating the world’s first successful artificial intelligence (AI).

Caleb is here not for a fun vacation with the bossman, but to perform the Turing Test on Nathan’s AI, who he’s made to look like Natalie Portman (okay not actually) and named Ava (played by Alicia Vikander, more below). The Turing Test, if passed, proves that a machine is indistinguishable from a human, so Caleb begins testing Ava very practically– what is your name, can’t you choose what to draw, have you ever left here? Nathan is watching each of the seven sessions Caleb has with Ava, and we’re made to wonder who’s actually speaking with Caleb. The sessions become more and more human, on both sides (let’s face it, Caleb is a bit robotic too), and sexuality comes into question. Why would Nathan make a gendered AI? Does this matter to the plot? (Absolutely.)

The performances are great– Isaac walks the psychopath tightrope incredibly, making jokes that some were terrified by and others laughed at hysterically (for the record, I was the former). I’ve gushed over Gleeson on this site before so I’ll spare you this time, but an actor I’d never watched before and want to gush over now is Vikander. Her Ava is nearly flawless, so much so that you forget you’re not watching a robot programmed to act this way. The score can become a little much (we get it, she’s getting on an elevator!) and a lot of the script seems to underestimate the audience (twists and turns can appear in a straight line to anyone paying attention), but Machina asks a lot of important, fascinating questions while being very pretty. What are the consequences of creating something so lifelike? How has the internet changed society and surveillance? Is the reflection motif still engaging after an hour and a half? For a great conversation starter, see Ex Machina.

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action, mystery, sci-fi

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner, 2014

The Maze Runner, 2014

Children/teens fighting for their lives due to some sort of dystopian issue isn’t my thing. I’ve read and seen the first Hunger Games book and movie but wasn’t craving the rest. I haven’t read or seen anything Divergent related, and same with The Maze Runner— until last night. Runner, based on the book series by James Dashner, regards a bunch of guys dropped one at a time into a grassy arena surrounded by a maze, which changes each night. They believe if they can solve the maze, they can return to their previous lives, though their memories have been wiped so it’s interesting they’re so desperate to get back to… what exactly?

The cast is a mix of familiars and unknowns depending on your interests. I didn’t recognize main character Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), though he stars in MTV’s Teen Wolf. Kaya Scodelario plays the arena’s sole female (Teresa), and it’s as if director Wes Ball really wanted Kristen Stewart. She’s aggressive, talks in a deep voice, and keeps her hair in her face, so I only thought I recognized Scodelario. Will Poulter, on the other hand, was hard not to recognize thanks to his flawless performance of “Waterfalls” in We’re The Millers. Unfortunately in Runner Poulter plays Gally, a fierce, rule-abiding leader who doesn’t break into TLC hits or find a spider in his pants. Also familiar was Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played Newt. Yes, the adorable boy from Love, Actually has grown up to live in a mysterious grassy knoll filled with young men and zero signs of Christmas cheer or love or Liam Neeson.

It’s evident Runner is based on a book since it drops things so casually, like the fact that these robot-spider-scorpions called “Grievers” are living in the maze and sting people. The boys also use their own slang with no explanations, and it makes you wonder why make up lingo at all? If they really hope to return to normalcy, they should stick to speaking normally. At the end of the day, Runner is a wanna-be Lord of the Flies performed by monochromatic, dirty Gap models who are freakishly clean shaven even though they’ve lived outside for up to three years. If you’re into broody boys, robots, or henley style t-shirts, maybe watch Runner. Otherwise… maybe watch any of the other movies mentioned in this review.

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adventure, drama, sci-fi

Interstellar

Interstellar, 2014

Interstellar, 2014

I’ve been watching plenty of Netflix lately (The Intouchables– fine, Django Unchained– do you like Tarantino?), but yesterday I went out and saw Christopher Nolan’s latest, Interstellar, and this (surprise!) is the one I have the most to talk about. Its trailers were kept very vague, though the gist is: Earth is dying out (think dust bowl in which all that can grow is corn), and humans need to find a new planet to inhabit. That’s all I can say without spoiling too much, but know that you spend time on Earth and in space and meet lots of different people.

The film is gorgeous, and there’s no doubt it is meant to be seen on the big screen; though let’s be honest, if I had this two hour and 49 minute film going in my living room, I’d press pause a lot. It’s long, and it feels long (in Earth years, anyway). Comparing it to another one of Nolan’s intended-to-blow-your-mind films, Inception, is unfair since both are very different in terms of plot; however, each is scored by Hans Zimmer (so every use of sound is phenomenal and intentional and submersive) and is intended to keep you guessing. The difference, in my opinion, is that Inception provided new information each scene and kept you wanting more, while Interstellar simply is. You hop from planet to planet and learn some solar system terminology, but you’re waiting for the end. Inception had you waiting for the next moment, which is much more powerful.

One of many things Nolan has a knack for is putting together an extraordinarily familiar cast and creating something that’s not bound for the worst, like New Years Eve. Nearly every actor featured is a famous one, from Matthew McConaughey to Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Topher Grace, Matt Damon (who kills it), John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck… and it all makes sense. Not one feels out of place. My favorite character, though, would be Romilly (David Gyasi) who spoke to everyone as if they were an ill tempered child. It was very helpful when he explained things, like black holes.

I was told the movie “ended physicist-y,” and feared something way too scientific, when in reality it’s digestible and  boils down to something more. Some even say McConaughey’s current Lincoln commercial serves as a spoiler (view at your own risk). But besides the corny conclusion (pun absolutely intended), I liked the film. I didn’t leave mind blown or pondering any large questions, but I do wonder A) Why leave your car and house windows open when you’re living in a perpetual dust storm?, and, most of all, B) Why the heck name your child Cooper Cooper?

 

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