Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

The Arrival (2016)

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Take it from me, watching the trailer for The Arrival over and over in the cinemas these last few months has driven me further and further away from this freaky sci-fi drama, but Denis Villeneuve’s surprisingly audacious new film skirts the very edge of absurdity and humanity. I’m always agnostic about sci-fi ‘disappointments’, such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar or Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, but The Arrival is a mature and thoughtful piece that uses first-contact premise as not merely a set up for a doomsday epic, but as a platform for a powerful and nuanced exploration of love, relationships and the human condition.

As twelve mysterious spacecrafts land in varying locations across the globe, we see college students’ phones explode with the breaking news. Humanity’s reaction is the very core of this film, as priorities methodically unfold before the ships – or shells – are finally revealed. Here the tone is set for a desperate hunt for survival. Amy Adams is Dr Louise Banks, a professor of comparative linguistics, and naturally the first point of contact when a bunch of military guys need help translating the language of these aliens. But as the film unfolds, the question of ‘Why are you here?’ greatly pends, as humanity fights against itself to preserve what remains of its peaceful existence.

Denis Villeneuve’s approach to The Arrival builds on a rich body of work, with films such as Prisoners and Sicario absorbing a remarkable world of symmetrical compositions and patient camera moves. But in addition to superb screen composition, The Arrival’s extraordinary success draws from its ability to resonate emotionally on an almost incomprehensible level. As the drama unfolds, you’ll be biting your fingernails in anticipation. This combination of human interaction, bravura style and grand science-fiction depth looks at the vulnerability and sacrifice of humanity to transcend the genre of sci-fi altogether. I guarantee that it will leave you speechless.

An intelligent and wildly gripping film, The Arrival dazzles from beginning to end, causing us to re-evaluate the world around us in the very fabric of humanity. It is simply art, at a time when so many seem intent on walling on themselves or their country – its exactly what we need.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

The Immigrant (2013)

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The Immigrant isn’t just set in the past, but feels like it’s been rediscovered from another time. The latest film from award-winning director James Gray ignites outdated modes of film making and highlights the perfect details behind a luckless Polish woman’s difficulty in attaining the American dream. The intelligence, maturity and honesty of this work is outstanding and a little bewildering to say the least.

Upon arrival at Ellis Island, Ewa is immediately separated from her beloved sister Magda, ignored by her uncle and threatened with deportation back to Poland. All seems hopeless for Ewa until Bruno comes along with the promise of boarding and work at his theatre, which quickly proves as nothing more than a high-class brothel. However kindness arrives in the form of a charming travelling magician who falls for Ewa, meanwhile causing Bruno to become immensely jealous.

The Immigrant has a melodramatic edge to it, but there remains something too fragile and tense about the actress in the role. The film delivers a performance that’s quite integral and charming, but also surprisingly forceful. You can never predict the behaviour and emotions of characters intertwined in the thick plot. The immigrant is almost a fatuous love story in a world haunted by fear. Bruno and Orlando are grown men with weapons, but their devotion to Ewa doesn’t make their actions feel any less immature. For such a gorgeous, thoughtful film, The Immigrant is more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one – mainly as a result of Ewa’s commiserating but never quite heartbreaking problems.

The Immigrant is a simple love story in an undoubtedly terrifying adult world of hate, fear and abandonment. The film unfolds at its own pace, building slowly, perhaps even tediously towards its emotionally relieving conclusion.  Such an incredible movie – and so cold too.

★★★★☆