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%

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Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

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Into the dark you tumble into Alice Through the Looking Glass; James Bobin’s wild, witty and extravagant take on Lewis Carroll’s illusory hallucinations. Visually, the certainty that the two imaginative artists were made for each other is realized exquisitely, matched with a haunting design for Wonderland, a seamless meeting of live action with animation and picturesque charm. But the story is now far less Carroll and Burton than Bobin taking flight with a script crafted by Linda Woolverton, who references and incorporates characters in a way that answers our curious and curiouser childish wonders.

Replacement director James Bobin takes the reigns for this sequel, following Alice’s travels into the past to prevent the Jabberwocky from roasting Mad Hatter’s parents. Frolicking with other whimsical wonderland creatures, Hatter is suddenly triggered by discarded trash that reminds him of his estranged, long-gone family. Hatter pleads and finally convinces Alice that she must find them and bring them back … even if they are now long passed. Hatter’s whacky crazy madness is in the fabric of this film, and Alice’s journey of restoring harmony to wonderland again will leave you asking for more. Trust me, by the conclusion of the film you will know all of the little secrets you didn’t even know you wanted to know. Looking Glass is a dream come true.

Bobin takes Burton’s film and escalates it in an effort to not only continue the Disney run of adaptations, but to potentially recapture the immense success of the first film. But above the film’s strenuous attempts to resonate with larger personal themes of loss, strife and time, Looking Glass is a selling spectacle … and a good one at that. Bobin has a fantastic eye for visual effects, but this often pushes him from diverting tedious to deafening, as the bright colours and movement strain to draw the illusion of a film with a story to tell. But Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t fail to bring an outstanding performance as Time. He’s derisive, obnoxious and crazy about the Red Queen. Time is truly spectacular. It serves as yet another reminder that the Borat actor is proficient in depths rarely explored by other filmmakers. Otherwise, character development is mind-numbing, conflict is dull and the backstories are painfully predictable.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is pervasive of the blockbuster model in painful ways. But stemming from my never failing love of Alice in Wonderland, I still enjoyed it immensely. Bobin applies more absurdity and more surrealism into Alice’s sense of fantasy, while weakly contributing to the overarching central story. He creates magical spectacles and forefronts in a world-class tech reel, capturing the dreamlike wonderland we know and love in an earnest and spectacular way. But if I can sum up Alice Through the Looking Glass in one sentence: it’s like holding a vivid, colourful balloon that deflates a little more every second you hold onto it.

★★★☆☆

Spotlight (2015)

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I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.

After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.

We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.

I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.

★★★★★

 

The Book Thief – Courage Beyond Words (2013)

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The Book Thief is a very successful novel written by Markus Zusak that captured the hearts of over eight million readers worldwide. Director Brain Percival has undeniably captured the same courage, irony, horror and humanity of the original pages in this stunning film adaptation. The Book Thief is an impactful historical drama filled with impressive performances, comedic relief and tear-jerking scenes that will have you fumbling for a tissue.

The Book Thief is set in War stricken Germany between 1939 and 1943 and is narrated by Death, who illustrates with perplexity the seemingly strange way humans conduct themselves. Death tells the story of nine-year old Liesel Meminger, who he introduces when her younger brother dies on a train to the fictional town of Molching, Germany. A kind and affectionate working-class painter, Hans, and his strict but caring wife Rosa adopt Liesel into their childless home. Hans instantly commits to teaching his grief-stricken daughter to read and write after an incident at school labeling the girl as illiterate. With all the constant horror surrounding her, the bright girl manages to escape in words and language, all the while learning to read, write and smuggle books.

Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are well cast as Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Geoffrey Rush brings his usual command of humor and dramatic authority, making him one of the most sympathetic characters. He constantly radiates kindness, consideration and encouragement, especially towards Liesel. Emily Watson captures the dark and relentless character of Rosa with stability and domination, making her a personality hard to fall in love with. Rosa is sharp-tongued, rigid and impatient to all those around her, a clear reflection of the original novel character. Ultimately the undeniable horror of losing her home and her loved ones exposes Rosa’s inner warmth and fondness for her infuriating husband and adopted daughter.

The film delivers quality acting, mesmerizing settings as well as humor weaved carefully throughout the heartbreaking events. Overall, The Book Thief is a rewarding and emotional film with heart, celebration of language and a reminder that in times of utter madness there is always a silver lining.

Gravity – Don’t Let Go (2013)

Just in from Academy Award winning director Alfonso Cuaron comes this outstanding Science fiction thriller. With no stronghold of fantasy, the film is simple and engaging throughout. Gravity is outstanding from a cinematography perspective complete with raw acting and perfect tone. But at the same time the story line is fairly slow, lacking pace and often sub-plots. The film is attractive yet alarming, elaborate yet gigantic and specific yet astronomically engaging. It’s directly a survival story set in outer space with no glamour, aliens or automated robots, just pure humanity.

Gravity opens with a speck in the darkness that grows into an exceptionally vivid shot that seemingly lasts forever. The Earth’s spectrum is captured from over 500 km in outer space where there are a number of trained astronauts working tirelessly in a space station. The focus shifts primarily to a skillful medical engineer by the name of Dr. Ryan Stone who is busy fixing an exterior spacecraft malfunction. A veteran astronaut on his final mission accompanies her out on the spaceship, clowning around and cracking jokes. All of a sudden the pair are informed of debris traveling from a nearby space station propelling towards them. The rest of the film is their detailed struggle for survival.

Gravity only features two living and breathing actors, Just in from Academy Award winning director Alfonso Cuaron comes this outstanding Science fiction thriller. With no stronghold of fantasy, the film is simple and engaging throughout. Gravity is outstanding from a cinematography perspective complete with raw acting and perfect tone. But at the same time the story line is fairly slow, lacking pace and often sub-plots. The film is attractive yet alarming, elaborate yet gigantic and specific yet astronomically engaging. It’s directly a survival story set in outer space with no glamour, aliens or automated robots, just pure humanity.

Catch Me If You Can – Ingenious deception (2002)

Spielberg’s supremely amusing tale of self-invention in the land of opportunity tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager from Rochelle, New York. Spielberg grasped that unique history and turned it into a superbly charming pursuit story precisely set in the sights and sounds of Abagnale’s 1960’s era. The film’s approach is cheerful and fun but maintains firm attention towards the dark side of characters pain and suffering.

Frank Abagnale Jr. was only 16 when he became one of the 1960’s most legendary con artists. The film opens with his home life; everything seems perfect for the teenager, whose parents are seemingly madly in love. But everything changes when Frank Sr. is investigated by the IRS and his dear mother files for divorce only to wed one of her husband’s closest friends. In hope of avoiding the confusion Frank Jr. runs away and begins a three year crime spree in which he successfully impersonates an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and several other professions, and tricks various establishments out of $2.5 million before he is caught and condemned to serve 12 years in prison.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young Abagnale with an effortless charm, and we never fail to forget that his character is still a teenager distressed for approval from his father. Tom Hanks is also fantastic as FBI agent Carl Hanratty. The guy is passionate, ambitious and strongly devoted to his profession. Christopher Walken is great as Frank’s father. You really believe the genuine bond between the two characters. Martin Sheen appears as the impending father-in-law for Frank and his reactions to Frank’s giant stories are priceless. Jennifer Garner draws one of the biggest laughs in the movie when she tries to fraud the con man.

Steven Spielberg is a leading storyteller who has a delightful sense of visual design. Though very visually appealing and entertaining, Catch Me If You Can establishes a cheap grace because the soft ending to the movie seems to excuse Frank’s adolescent behavior. The movie, therefore, values love, compassion and sympathy above repentance and responsibility.

Forrest Gump – The Story of a Lifetime (1994)

Forrest Gump is a film heart-breaker of eccentric wit and startling beauty. Gump’s story is an extraordinary virtual-reality tour of the late twentieth century American history. Vietnam, integration, Watergate and other significant events illustrate from the perspective of Hanks’ lovable slow-witted character as he finds himself entangled in situations he can’t seem to understand. The combined everlasting love, dedication, persistence and joy in this film is both refreshing and captivating.

Forrest Gump is gifted with a low IQ and a pure soul, which leads him into a delightfully childlike atmosphere even as he matures. He leads a very charmed life and follows a straight path throughout the world, ever true to the informal advice of his mother. As he grows up he encounters a miraculous incident that eliminates the need for him to have braces on his legs, a childhood girlfriend who constantly remains faithful to him, surviving Vietnam with high awards, and in general, a tendency to transform everything that happens to him into good.

Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a simple Alabama soul who serves his country with dignity and perseverance. Tom Hanks plays the role with a smooth Southern intonation and Evangelic sincerity. Gump is the typical simpleton, his only main characteristic is the passive virtue infused in him by his mama. Overall the performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, between a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths.

The film effectively follows Forrest on a tour of recent American history. The director, Robert Zemeckis has experience with special effects, previously incorporated in his other feature films such as Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Zemeckis uses computerized visual effects to place Gump in historic situations with real people. Gump teaches Elvis to swivel his hips, becomes a football star, meets John F. Kennedy, speaks at an anti-war rally in Washington, features on the Dick Cavett show with infamous John Lennon and serves with honour in Vietnam.

Forrest Gump is a beautiful illustration of hope and inspires me constantly to strive above and beyond the expectations. Gump is a new male role model, a nice boy with a loving attitude, complete honesty and genuine kindness, which everyone knows is hard to find. The film has many meaningful quotes and inspirational events, for instance my personal favourite; ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’re going to get’.