Arrival (2016): Amy Adams and the Hectapods (Review)

Amy Adams

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (the chap who helmed “Prisoners” and “Sicario“) with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer – based on the Ted Chiang short story “Story of Your Life – Arrival is a slow, moving and methodical delivery of almost unconsciously epic proportions. It features the ever watchable Amy Adams meeting some “hectapods” and Jeremy Renner in a different mode than his usual heroic onscreen presentation.

Some critics have commented on the uniqueness of the aliens in the just under two hour film and stated that they are unlike other alien depictions in the past.

Oh, contraire, ‘mes amies.’

Monsters, the 2010 guerrilla-made-on-a-budget film featured multi-limbed creatures that were huge and looked not too dissimilar from these aliens. “Battle for Los Angeles” also had multi-legged, or armed (it was hard to tell) aliens who took on a squad of Marines and one Air Force Technical Sergeant.

Leaving aside the small duplicity issue of this film’s version of little green “men” Arrival manages to hit a lot of notes in the time given. It stresses the need for communication above all else and throws a game changer into the mix with a time conundrum of sorts.

The film starts with what we assume to be memories (although in essence they really are just “future” remembrances) of a daughter who dies an early death and the mourning of the parent left behind. It then moves into the day of linguistic professor Jesse Banks (Adams) going to work and finding her class decimated.

Turning on the news, we learn that 12 alien spacecraft, looking like ovoid versions of Kubrick’s obelisk from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” have arrived, hovering above the earth in odd locations across the globe. In short order, Banks is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who wants her to translate the newcomers version of language and she is joined by Ian Donnelly (Renner); a scientist.

The build up to the underplayed epilogue of the film is slowly paced. This gives us an idea of how long it would take to learn an alien communicative system as well as giving us a reason why the creatures write in a circular manner.

Non-linear time-lines are the basis for the language and the gift that the visitors mean to bestow on a hostile planet. It is the crux of the plot and the thing that drives Banks throughout the film. Somewhat amazingly, for what is in essence, a science fiction “creature feature” Arrival is a bit of a “tear jerker.”

This is only accomplished by a subtle delivery of moments of truth along the film’s own timeline. Renner’s character’s clear excitement and delight at the prospect of entering the alien spacecraft.  Adams’ tough fragility and the emotions that she displays while “remembering” her dead daughter are just part of the mixture that really sells the film and its off-center plot twist.

Even the moment where Abbott, or Costello, tap the glass with one hectapodal limb (a clear gesture meaning, “it’s behind you” toward the end of the film) feels true and rational. After all, in terms of non-verbal communication, it makes sense that even aliens could point at something and it would mean the same thing in any world: “Look at that.”

The ending is sad, yet defining, and perhaps only Adams could have pulled this one off so perfectly. Renner makes the perfect partner for the actress in this scenario and he plays the enthusiastic scientist to perfection. At no time do we confuse Ian with that arrow slinging Marvel hero that the actor is so associated with.

Villeneuve has managed to put together a tale that relies on memory of things to come with a major plot device of “seeing” things in the future at the “right time” to affect the present.  The editing and the pacing of the film makes everything come together beautifully at the end. 

Arrival conveys the strictness of a military response to an alien visit adroitly. The humorless approach, by personnel used to dealing with threats, mixed with the more aesthetic players on the team works well and also has that ring of truth to it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Arrival only garnered one Oscar (for Best Achievement in Sound Editing) as it is a full 5 star film.  It never really misses a beat and hits all the right notes throughout. It is available to watch via streaming online or on DVD.

Catch this one if you can and have a box of tissues handy just in case. Check out the trailer below:

Avengers: Age of Ultron Somber Revisit to the Verse

Poster for Avengers 2

After having to wait for iTunes to stop offering Avengers: Age of  Ultron for purchase (sorry but if it’s to own, Blu-Ray with a load of extras is how this reviewer rolls) and giving punters the chance to just rent Joss Whedon and Marvel’s follow up to The Avengers (Assemble) the viewing experience turned out to be a somber revisit to the Marvel verse. The sobering sequel introduces two new characters, one lasting much longer than the other (Scarlet Witch aka Elizabeth Olsen) who becomes a member of the home team before the end credits roll.

This sequel is darker than the first. It also has less of the obvious Whedon touches. There are, most likely, a number of reason for this holding back of the Joss effect.

Firstly, it is not news to anyone who loves the Avengers films that Joss “Is Boss” Whedon  is bowing out of the business of forging the films.  As Whedon also has a small screen version of the Marvel world to produce weekly, it makes a huge amount of sense to leave the big screen shenanigans up to another director/writer to play with.

Secondly, things in the comic book world of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (Tony Stark) Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, et al are due to become very dark indeed with the next installment dealing with the infinity war, civil war, the death of Cap and any number of dark and disturbing issues in Marvel land.

The Avengers did have  Joss Whedon all over it, a clear stamp of his wit, framing, dialogue and directorial genius. Avengers: Age of Ultron feels grim, in comparison, and dangerous. The overly clever wit has been toned down and is less Joss than usual. (Although the Iron Man scene where Stark says, after shooting all the bad guys in the room is, “Good talk,” and an obviously in-pain shot guard moans, “No it wasn’t.” Pure unadulterated Whedon.)

*Sidenote* Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury gets what may just be the best, i.e. funniest, line of the film. Speaking about Ultron’s building up of an army, he says that he is producing quicker than a “Catholic Rabbit.” While this may not necessarily go over very well with the Pope, is it very, very funny. Although Spader’s Ultron comes a very close second with his “I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but …”

Why?

Well, as stated above, Whedon is due to hand over the reins of power to Joe and Anthony Russo for Avengers 3 Part one (due out in 2018).  Also, as mentioned above, fans of the comic books for each of the main characters know that dark days are coming and this has also, apparently necessitated a change in style. The franchise should not have a huge shift in directorial influence with some transition. Hence the darker feel.

The film is not, however, without its amusing moments but the banter is either missing or toned down to near nonexistence.  The entire storyline is sobering, so much so that even the re-emergence of Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury fails to elicit  a cheer.  James Spader, who plays Ultron, kills it, sounding uncannily like Tony Stark, with the way he delivers many of his  lines  and feeling like the ultimate rebellious teenager who wants desperately to overpower/outperform  his father (Stark).

The plot in the second Avengers film has Tony Stark doing what he does best,  acting independently, although he has Dr. Banner (the Hulk) helping him. He develops an AI peacekeeper to help defend earth. Ultron, his creation, is flawed and ultimately decides that mankind must evolve to survive. Unfortunately his idea of evolution is an enforced extinction of the species therefore allowing  one to take over.

All of the Avengers must reform and evolve  in order to face and defeat this threat, in the process, Tony and Banner create Vision (Jarvis with an infinity stone in his biotic forehead).  While the film feels a bit sobering, there are a still a few moments of levity and a couple of things that tell us these uneasy team members were meshing very well, until the rise of Ultron.

Hawkeye and The Black Widow are Clint and Nat. Bruce and Natasha have “a thing” and we learn a whole lot more about Barton. For instance, he has a house in the country with kids and his wife Laura is played by  Linda Cardellini.   Clint also has DIY fever and constantly remodels the house.  

This iteration of the Avengers has our heroes fighting an even bigger army with a huge threat going on all about them. A huge section of ground that, when released from its ever increasing height, will annihilate life on earth is the battleground setting where all the heroes fight Ultron’s mechanized troops.

Andy Serkis has a  brilliant cameo and he is not in a mo-cap suit for once. Elizabeth Olsen kills it as the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)  as does Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays brother Pietro (Quicksilver). Paul Bettany finally gets to show off more than his dulcet tones and he proves to be just as impressive in the “flesh.”

The ubiquitous Stan Lee cameo comes at the start of the film and is said to be Stan’s favorite one to date. “Excelsior” aside, the film has a lot of memorable moments.  The scenes are on par with the first foray into the big screen world of Marvel heroes.  We have some backstory for Natasha, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, and we learn what Tony Stark really fears.

By the time the film ends, we have a new group of Avengers, Stark has stepped away from the new “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Cap is still heading up the organization.  Vision looks to be the new “in the trenches” leader of the group and Earth is still under threat.

As a sort of PS type sidenote, the whole Captain America schtick of “Language” was amusing as was Stark in his Hulk suit beating the Hulk’s head into the pavement while  repeating desperately “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to…” Almost as good as Tony then knocking out one of the big guy’s teeth and saying in a very little voice, “I’m sorry.”

Even though the overall feel of this Avengers outing was  a little less Joss and more transitional, the film is, like the first, an exciting experience.  There were, however, no goosebumps inducing moments, as in the first film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment value and because (Duh!) it’s Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chis Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Cobie…

28 Months Later “In the Works”

Poster for 28 Days Later For fans of the original Danny Boyle directed and Alex Garland written 28 Days Later, this could be very good news. Certainly Facebook is full of fans singing their little rage filled hearts out at the recent news that Garland released stating that the script for 28 Months Later has been finished and is in the works but he will have nothing further to do with it.

Alex talks backstory a bit, not on the new 28 Days story but about the path taken to get a sequel worthy of the original. In GamesRadar+ the screenwriter talks about Boyle’s talking about a Garland written sequel while he focussed upon Trainspotting 2 a couple of years ago.

In reference to the Gamesradar+ story, it should be pointed out that they call the film a “zombie” film, which, technically it is not, the films are post-apocryphal and has nothing to do with hordes of the undead.

At that time Alex said he would write it but did not want any active participation in the project. Producer Andrew MacDonald said that he would take care of it. Regardless of whether the writer wants to work on the project, hopefully this sequel should have the same tones of originality that the first one had in spades. The other thing that 28 Days Later had was that wonderfully haunting music, used in a number of other movies, most notably Kick-Ass where the soundtrack was updated for the “Big Daddy Kills” sequence.

While many still refer to the first two as “zombie” films; the scary attacking people in the verse are not, undead flesh eaters. In 28 Days Later the whole outbreak starts because a few animal rights activists go to release monkies who have been infected with Rage. This virus actually turns the primates into screaming murderous, and enraged, creatures who only want to attack. The virus is transferred to people and poor Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find the world in London has changed for the worse.

The first film was brilliant, the cross plot of the Christopher Eccleston’s Army Major, “I promised them women,” and the Brendan Gleeson’s doomed fatherly cab driver, “Get away,” were just icing on the cinematic cake. Naomi Harris and Megan Burns as the women rounded out the casting for this haunting and damned scary film. Boyle proved once again to be the master of celluloid.

Poster for 28 Weeks Later Then came the “star studded” 28 Weeks Later. Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Robert Carlyle and Imogen Poots, in what was her second feature film role, were stuck in an inferior version of Boyle’s and Garland’s Rage infested England. The first clue that this sequel would be lacking was the noticeable absence of both Boyle and Garland on the project. I liked the film because Carlyle was in it and he brought his own special magic to the role of the man who deserts his wife to the infected and then lies to his kids about it.

Jeremy Renner also made me a fan for life as the sniper with a heart and Idris Elba was not used enough. The story was a pallid follow up to the first film and it was a bit disappointing to not see anything of Murphy and Harris, or for that matter Burns, and their characters.

Apart from Garland’s admission that the script is standing by waiting to be greenlit, there is no further information about the project. Considering that the writer has also stated that no one, not even FOX were interested in doing another sequel after 28 Weeks Later does not bode too well for 28 Months Later.

If the film does get the go ahead, it is to be devoutly hoped that the studios do not forget the original premise and make the Rage infected attackers zombies. Let’s keep our film-lore straight here, this is not an English version of The Walking Dead. Hopefully more news will be released on the likelihood of this anticipated film being made, sooner rather than later.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Grimms Gets CG

Hansel & Gretel get CG

I watched this film with deep misgivings. I then realised that not only was I being unfair, I was, if nothing else, being hypocritical. I have always maintained that one should watch a film with no preset expectations. I had doomed Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with an almost pathological distaste at the “high tech” weaponry and the CG that dominated the film.

You’d think I would have known better.

The film is a great big fantasy filled romp through Grimm’s fairy tale land. It is just gory enough to be very apropos to the original, much darker, version of the fairy tale, with an interesting twist. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (the talent that brought us the gloriously funny Dead Snow in 2009) it was a labour of love for him.

Turns out that Tommy had the idea for H&G:WH in film school (or media school, whichever you prefer) and apart from the fact that his teacher asked him to never approach him on that particular subject again, he did recommend that Tommy do a sales pitch on the idea if he ever got to Hollywood.

Which is exactly what he did.

Starring: Jeremy RennerGemma ArtertonFamke Janssen, and  Peter Stormare  the film has a good enough pedigree in the acting arena to at least guarantee good performances and the actors do a brilliant job with the limited character arc that their roles entail.

The plot (according to IMDb) is as follows:

Hansel & Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.

The witch hunting duo use all sorts of way too modern weaponry to dispatch the witches they encounter (all for a price, despite this being a labour of love, they also charge accordingly – as Hansel says early in the film, “Trolls are extra.”) the film has no designs of being “historically” accurate. We are here for the fun of it and if you cannot get past the obvious updating of the witch hunters, the exit is clearly marked, or in my case, the eject button.

Janssen

Famke Janssen rocks it as the witch “ruler” who has a personal score to settle with the witch killing pair. Although she really has it in for Gretel, who turns out to be  a white witch whose heart needs to be ripped out in order to make all witches the world over, impervious to fire.

Peter Stormare, does what Peter Stormare does best. He’s another distasteful oaf who’s the town sheriff and town bully. He dislikes H&G on first sight and takes umbrage that they are in his town telling him what to do.

So much for the plot and the characters, except to say the both Renner and Arterton have a lot of fun with their roles. But the combination of CG and practical FX help to sell this film. I spent the entire film thinking that the troll, Edward, was a CG creation and it turns out, he was not.

He is gloriously real (in a prosthetic sort of real) and only a modicum of CG was required. Even the witches flying on their version of broomsticks was real. The make-up and the stunts and the FX helped to make the film a glorious romp with no semblance to reality in the film. Well, apart from using a village set that does attempt to stay faithful to history.

Overall, this was a 4 out of 5 star film. I rated it so high because of Janssen and Storemare and Renner and Arterton. These actors went all out for their roles. Roles that could have been a straight two dimensional caricature had they chosen to play it that way. Sure they didn’t have room for a lot of depth, but it is a fairytale at the end of the day.

Great film, just don’t look for too much in the way of being faithful to the Brothers Grimm.

witch hunt

28 Weeks Later (2008): Rage Squared

 

28 Days Later

I won’t lie. The main draw for me in this film was Robert Carlyle. I first saw him perform in Cracker he played a mentally unbalanced chap named Albie. He was completely believable in the roll.  I then saw him in the excellent Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, playing the scary Begbie. I became a life long fan as a result of his performances in those two films. So when I saw that he was going to be in 28 Weeks Later, I knew I had to see the film. He was the only reason, because Danny Boyle would not be in the driver seat for this iteration of the Rage saga.

Unfortunately the  small cozy feel  that  28 Days had is gone. It has been replaced with literally  hordes of people. I personally think the film  suffers because of this. It’s scope is wider and encompasses a broader area. These elements along with having a different director, changes the pacing,  feel and  direction of the film.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 28 Weeks Later starts with a couple, Don played by Robert Carlyle and Alice played by Catherine McCormack who are in a fortified farmhouse with four other people.  They are all essentially  trapped  and it appears that the Rage outbreak is alive and well and spreading across the country.

A horde of  infected  break into the house and start attacking everyone.  Don runs to the end of the hallway and climbs out a window.  He jumps down to the ground and looks up to see Alice looking out of the window and screaming for Don to help her. Don is in complete  flight mode, panicked and desperate, he runs to the river outside the farmhouse. Hot on his heels are hordes of infected and their number increases as Don gets near the river. At the river he gets in a motor boat and barely escapes the area.

28 weeks later, all the infected have starved to death. An American NATO task force has been dispatched to England to begin cleaning up the mess and repatriating people who were outside the country when the Rage epidemic swept the country. Alice and Don’s two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are among the first groups to be allowed back into the country. During a medical examination  Major Scarlet Ross (Rose Byrne) notices that Andy has different  one blue eye and one brown eye. Tammy and Andy explain that their mother also had different coloured eyes.
 Tammy and Andy  are reunited with their dad, Don. He lies and tells the children that he saw their  mother die.  Don also explains to the children that he is the head maintenance man for the safe zone and that he can access any area in the building.
Tammy and Andy  decide to sneak out and go to their old house to get some pictures of their Mother. They are seen by a sniper, Sergeant  Doyle (Jeremy Renner) who reports that the children have left the  area.   Once  the two children  get home  they find more than a picture,  they find Mum . Miraculously still alive she has somehow made her way back . Just as Mum and the kids find each other, the Army arrives and takes them all  back to the safe area. All three are placed in quarantine and Mum is separated from the children and has tests done to see if she is infected.
Both Tammy and Andy are furious with Dan and want to know what really happened. Dan is in a state of shock and says that the children have no idea what it like during the outbreak. He then goes to see Alice using his all area pass. Meanwhile Scarlett has discovered that Alice is carrying the virus but is not showing any of the symptoms.
Don enters Alice’s quarantine area and begs her to forgive him for  running away.  Alice  does and they share a kiss. As the saliva comes in contact with his lips, Don is instantly infected. The virus screams through his system and he kills Alice with his bare hands. Don then single handedly sets about infecting the safe zone.
At this point in the film we  sense that, like a house of cards, the safe zone is going to fall apart.  The virus shoots through the facility with the speed and violence of a tornado. Scarlett grabs Tammy and Andy and they make a run for it. Along the way they pick up Sgt Doyle and the small group try to get out of the now infected safe zone.
Throughout the rest of the film Don unrelentingly goes after Andy. I don’t know if this is because he shares his mothers  eye colours  or some other reason. It is never explained in the film. What is apparent however, it that just about every occupant of the safe zone is now infected. Before Doyle gets taken out of the picture by a flame thrower, another sniper  arranges  for a helicopter to collect the small group of survivors.
The film is very well paced, but I felt that Robert Carlyle was the most interesting thing in the film. That is not to say the film isn’t good, it just isn’t as great as the first one.  Losing Danny Boyle meant losing that sharp focus and intense feeling that 28 Days later had in spades.
Still if you are a Carlyle fan, it is worth the time spent watching the film just to see his performance.