Arrival

In a montage at the beginning of the film, Professor of linguistics Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is seen caring for her young daughter who sadly doesn’t make it to adulthood because of cancer. We return to the present day and Louise is lecturing some of her students when they realise that strange monolithic alien shapes are appearing in places around the globe, hovering silently just a few metres above the ground. Louise is asked (by US Army Colbert GT Weber) to join physicist Ian Donnely in trying to help the military figure out who and what they are and what is going on.

I enjoyed the process of Louise trying to establish communication, and the patience required and displayed by the protagonists. It also displayed the difficulty with worldwide cooperation well, full of tension and twitchyness with positions and methods shifting greatly due to small changes here and there.

However I was very disappointed by the ending which seemed to reduce the entire story down to one person and their love life. Grand ideas about the furtherment of mankind and cooperation on an international scale and more were reduced to one person’s skills and choices. I unfortunately completely lost my suspension of disbelief at this point!

2 on 5

Info
Director: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma
UK Release: 10th October 2016

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Under The Skin

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and set in Glasgow and its surrounds, this film starts with a white dot in the centre of a black screen and there follows a short sequence which suggests planets, satellites, eclipses and perhaps even the creation of an eye. It suggests these things without being explicit or clear on the exact events, which is to become the manner for the rest of the film. Subsequently we see a motorbike rider clearly on a mission, stopping by the side of a road to retrieve the limp body of a woman from a ditch and load her into a transit van. Next we see another, otherworldly woman (played by Scarlet Johannson) standing over the limp body, who confusingly appears to resemble her exactly. She removes and dons her clothing whilst the body sheds a tear.

If this opening sequence intrigues you then you’re going to enjoy what follows, if it frustrates you or appears deliberately obtuse then you’re probably not.

The performance of Scarlet and the fantastic soundtrack manage to imbue long sections in the first half of the film (which essentially involve a woman driving a van around Glasgow) with intrigue, menace, style and a real feeling of originality. This is not an easy watch. It has a real haunting quality and there are a couple of quite nasty moments, but these moments aren’t just there for shock or to try and provoke a response, they are there for a deeper reason and to show how your opinion changes as you get more information or your perspective alters. A film that gets you at different points siding with and against your species is managing something interesting.

Despite the occasional use of the annoying Hollywood acting method of simply saying nothing in response to other characters, this is bold and adventurous filmmaking. Not perfect but it stays with you.

4 on 5

Info

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Staring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Doughie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, Adam Pearson, Paul Branigan, Kryštof Hádek

UK Release: 14th March 2014

[TAGS Under the skin, film review, Glasgow, Scarlett Johansson, Alien, Jonathan Glazer, motorbike, motorcycle, transit van, pickup, Jeremy McWilliams, Doughie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, Adam Pearson,
Paul Branigan, Kryštof Hádek]

La La Land

This musical starts with a very exuberant song and dance routine on a jammed freeway slip-road in Los Angeles, which (once you get over your initial shock!) sweeps you along with its colour and vibrancy and you realise it’s not only fun but really well choreographed as the camera swoops amongst the cars. It ends with our two protagonists being introduced – Mia (Emma Stone) an aspiring actress and Seb (Ryan Gosling) an aspiring jazz pianist. Mia is absorbed in her lines and slow to pull away and Seb impatient with her. Somehow you know they are going to meet again.

I know you’re meant to initially dislike Seb, but I was wondering why on earth Mia was intersted in him for a fair while because he’s played so haughtily, but perhaps also because Emma Stone is so convincing as Mia that you are already invested in her character. When they do get together they’re a very complimentary couple. They encourage each other to pursue their goals in life, but these goals come with compromise and there are a couple of scenes that show this in a devastating way: a romantic meal where resentments about reality hit home, for example, and a jazz club montage which will leave you pondering it for ages (I interpreted it as regretful from Seb’s point of view) and underlines that this is a film about Mia and her dreams.

They perhaps use the running-theme one too many times throughout the film, but for the most part it is great fun, colourful and a slap in the face for any grump out there!

4 on 5

Info
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
UK Release: 12th January 2017

Room

‘Room’ begins with a scene of a mother and her young son getting on with domestic life and shows some of the various flights of fancy in the son’s vivid imagination. It very quickly becomes clear that a man referred to as ‘Old Nick’ has had them confined to one small bedsit room for a number of years with only a skylight to glimpse the outside world.

Rather than showing the traumatic act of confinement or the initial period, the story cuts straight to an almost settled situation and concentrates on the relationship between mother Joy (Brie Larson) and 5 year old son Jack (Jason Tremblay) and particularly Jacks expansive imagination and ability to find amusements in the blandest of unchanging surroundings and harshest of situations.

It’s principally a display of a wonderful parent-child relationship in horrible circumstances. Joy initially insulates Jack from the situation but when he is old enough has to come clean and ask for him to help in attempting to escape.

It is a very moving and also life affirming film and I was really concerned for both of the characters at a point midway through the film, a sure sign of how involved I was with them. It may be that it has less of an impact of you are not a parent yourself though.

The third act of the film doesn’t shy away from confronting the difficulties of the trauma yet it ultimately manages to find reason to be optimistic.

Fantastic performances from both of the protagonists make it a film to look out for, but a dark subject matter.

4 on 5

Info
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H Macy
UK Release: 15th January 2016

The Revenant

“A person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead” is what it said when I looked up revenant in the dictionary (educational this film going lark!).

In 1823, a group of fur-trappers led by an apparently British General in the land of new frontiersman USA are out in the unsettled wilderness woodlands collecting pelts (“the skin of an animal with the fur, hair or wool still on it.” Dictionary coming in handy again!). They are besieged by a group of Native Americans in a great immersive opening battle reminiscent of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and only a few men manage to escape on a boat. One of them is Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-native son. Another of the group John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is suspicious of Glass and his son. The group dynamics are not good and before long disaster strikes when Glass is badly attacked by a bear.

That bear sequence is another technically impressive one, with Leonardo being flung all over the place. I’d love to see some of the footage before they airbrushed out the crew throwing him around and drew the bear in!

Leonardo has spoken about how the movie means a lot to him in terms of representing and highlighting the destruction of indigenous landscapes and peoples around the world, not just at the time when the native American people were clashing with the expanding capitalism to the west, but in the present day too. It does have that as a backdrop, but the meat on the bones of the film is a survival and revenge story.

Leonardo certainly plays the character of Glass with passion and plenty of conviction and combined with the landscapes and filters the film does actually make you feel cold. Unfortunately Tom Hardy’s character is mumbling and heavily-accented to the point where you miss most of his lines.

Part way through I was reminded of the excellent ‘Touching The Void’, the documentary film about a stranded man’s attempt to make it back to camp against all the odds, but the difference here is that getting back to camp doesn’t provide any closure as it would only be a step on the journey of revenge, revenge which does seem to falter near the end of the film.

A cinematic experience, but I didn’t think that the thin plot could quite sustain the 2 1/2 hours.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Alejandro Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forest Goodluck, Grace Dove UK Release: 15th January 2016

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Like most people, I enjoyed the first trilogy of Star Wars films a lot when I was young and was disappointed by the prequels released from 1999. But it’s okay, we can forget about those now as we rejoin the Star Wars world after the original trilogy! The trilogy of sequels has arrived!

So any Star Wars review has to be an exercise in treading carefully to avoid plot spoilers – the geeks are a force to be wary of! It seems to me that J J Abrams also approached the whole project with trepidation as well.

Episode VII is a safe film and one that will please the fans I suspect. J J Abrams has taken the franchise and delicately steered it back on course, avoiding any big obstacles along the way. It is very nostalgic and actually very derivative and plays like a reimagining of Episode IV. It feels like a Star Wars reboot that acknowledges and remakes the originals. And I was very glad to see no lens flare!

There are some funny moments but it is also very dark in places. Certainly not for young kids.

As far as the performances were concerned, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were both good and convincing in their roles, Rey and Finn respectively. Rey’s role was almost a carbon copy of Luke’s, but Finn’s was the only really original idea in the film and a good one too. I was less convinced about the baddies: General Hux was a smug git and Kylo Ren a moody teenager.

I’d better leave it there really, but it’s a fairly entertaining if unoriginal wander through the Star Wars universe and a handy bridge between the originals and the future of the franchise.

3 on 5

Info

Director: J J Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

UK Release: 16th December 2015

[TAGS: sci-Fi, Star Wars, space, wars, interplanetary, battles, c3po, r2d2, leia, Han Solo, Luke sky walker, Jedi, J J Abrams, Harrison
Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow]

Slow West

16 year old Scottish boy Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) decides to travel to Colorado in 19th century America to look for his love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorious). We pick up the journey shortly after he arrives on the East Coast and realise right away how out of his depth he is. As he gets caught up in a battle between a couple of groups of men, bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) fortunately comes to his rescue and Jay gives him all of his money to offer him protection along his journey.

And their journey is stylish, occasionally brutal, occasionally funny and always interesting. There are lots of diversions and incidences en-route and it has a very compelling relationship between Jay and Silas at it’s core, with particularly fine performances from Kodi Smit-McPhe and the always great Michael Fassbender.

It’s described as a western, but for all the occasionally violent moments it’s not got the macho feel of a typical western, it’s much more playful and bizarre than the typical film of ponderous posturing and it’s visually a joy. It’s also a snappy 84 minutes.

It’s an enjoyable and confident film and particularly promising as hopefully the first of many films from first time director John Maclean.

4 on 5

Info
Director: John Maclean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhe, Caren Pistorious, Ben Mendleson
UK Release: 26 June 2015