Movie Review: “Arrival”

Starring
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director
Denis Villeneuve

Canadian-born director Denis Villeneuve makes movies that block out the world. From the first to the last frame, his films keep you engaged and, more often than not, transfixed. Building on the success of past movies like “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” the director’s latest film, “Arrival,” is arguably the most emotional, thought-provoking and visceral experience he’s crafted yet.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” “Arrival” is a grounded alien invasion tale that poses the question: If first contact was made, how would we communicate with extraterrestrials? That becomes a terrifying reality when mysterious ships begin to land around the world. It’s an unsettling day full of fear and paranoia, but some believe that the aliens may be a symbol of hope and not terror. To find out the aliens’ motivations, Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought in by the U.S. government to interpret their language and find a way to communicate. At the start of the film, Louise is tired and haunted by visions of her dead daughter, but with the world at stake, she’ll do everything she can to maintain peace between Earth and these beautiful and sparsely designed extraterrestrials, working with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a plan before China declares war on the visitors.

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Movie Review: “Sicario”

Starring
Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Maximiliano Hernández, Victor Garber
Director
Denis Villeneuve

One popular web site called “Sicario” an unrelenting horror story disguised as a drug-war action movie. I wish I had seen that movie, because that sounds really interesting. The “Sicario” I saw was a ‘talented but naïve FBI agent falls under tutelage of high-ranking officer of questionable intent’ story that awkwardly morphs into a revenge thriller. It is beautifully directed, it features top-notch work by its three leads, and it is all set to a dazzling, unnerving score (Johan Johannson, who wrote the gorgeous score for 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”), but the film is all undone by a script that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) has impressed many people with her work on an FBI kidnapping task force in Arizona, and is asked if she would be interested in volunteering for a Department of Defense investigation that seeks to track down the Mexican drug kingpin who owns many of the homes in which their raids take place. She accepts, and her new boss Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) tells her nothing about what they’re doing: he simply asks her to watch and learn. Matt’s right hand man is Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who is valuable to Matt because of his extensive knowledge of the Mexican crime syndicates. Kate quickly realizes that Matt and Alejandro do not play by the same rule book that she does (read: the legal one), and begins to question why they brought her onto this team in the first place. That is when stuff gets real.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography, as usual, is gorgeous, but director Denis Villeneuve was thick with the symbolism. His overhead shots of the Mexican desert were bleached and reeking of death, while his landscape shots (also bleached and reeking of death) had a storm on the horizon nearly every time. In one scene, we even see lightning, but it never rains in the movie. This is a movie about drugs, and the battle to beat the people bringing them into the United States. We already knew that a storm was coming, and that the border is a hostile place. There was no need to constantly remind us of this.

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