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

Her

Another Spike Jonze film is something I look out for after the excellent ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Adaptation’. This film, set in LA, involves a recently-separated man (Theodore – Joaquin Phoenix) who has a job writing other people’s love-letters. It follows his increasing emotional dependence on his new operating system Samantha, which is programmed to have emotions and learn from experiences.

The voice of the OS initially seems disconnected and clearly added in post-production, as it is not coming through the computer but just from ‘everywhere’, but actually this is probably the effect they wanted to create as Theodore wears an earpiece to communicate with the OS. It offers a near-future that in one sense is disappointingly device-dependant, but on the other hand one where people would at least be talking to their devices rather than walking along or driving, looking at their screens and tapping away like they do today.

It doesn’t really cover any fresh ground and it follows the path you would expect. It’s quite dour in tone as the protagonist is still really hung-up about his divorce for most of the film (as I’m sure you would be!) and the colour palette seems to reflect this with beiges everywhere. Despite a good performance from Joaquin, there are inevitably an awful lot of scenes that just involve starting at his face as he talks to a computer. Still, there are occasional lighter moments: the brief day-out scene is welcome, the paper clip in the pocket is a nice detail and I found myself looking at the apartment and skylines with awe (possibly because the story wasn’t holding my attention). A lot of the filming was actually done in Shanghai (which seems to be happening more often), as well as in LA itself.

It’s very whimsical and a bit too long (what’s a surprise) and I’m sure some people will enjoy it, but it felt quite empty to me. The moral of the film appears to be that if you are going to invest in an emotion-based learning OS, then make sure it’s not a cloud-based solution, make sure it’s exclusive to your devices. A lesson for us all there then.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlet Johansson
UK Release: 14 Feb 2014

Man Of Steel

man of steel poster

This re-telling of the Superman story actually begins in Krypton, with Russell Crowe playing Jor-El, Superman’s Father (or Kal-El as Superman is named after birth). The Kryptonians are destroying their planet and themselves from a greed for resources and a lack of coherence. Jor-El has plans for the continuation of his blood line.

This intro sequence actually lasts quite some time, and whilst it is nice to get some backstory, the designers obviously struggled to balance making things seem Earth-compatible but also alien. It comes across very “remastered Star Wars”, with laser bolts and flying creatures everywhere and a sense of impending – but coming at just the right moment – doom.

Still, Kal-El (Henry Cavill) gets to Earth and we pick him up pretty much in the “present”, with the story of his childhood told in a number of flashbacks. We first see a glimpse of Kal-El’s powers on an oil rig, in a hilarious, entirely computer generated display, but leaving that behind as the man does himself, this part of the film dealing with his conflicts and his exercising restraint are great to watch. The logger’s truck certainly brings a good chuckle! Kal-El’s Earthly parents are played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and for me Kevin Costner is the best part of the film. The things he is trying to explain to his adopted son are the essence of the superman story and a scene by a motorway bridge in the film nearly moved me to tears.

The film takes another shift now to action setpieces. Louis Lane (Amy Adams) is a rather shallow character who starts popping up all over the place and trying to show how amazing she is, but General Zod (played by Michael Shannon) is a convincing, cold, passive-agressive nasty man. The action is probably better watched on a smaller screen to be honest. I watched it in a digitally projected 2D screening where the picture quality was mostly good with some graining in darker areas, but the shaky camera was getting incredibly annoying and combined with the UNNECESSARILY LOUD VOLUME OF EVERYTHING started making me feel a bit woozy. Despite some sounds being impressive (Zod’s gravity machine had the most terrifying noise I think I’ve ever heard), it all gets a bit too much after a while and I was closing my eyes and putting my fingers in my ears to get a break. Take some earplugs or watch it on a tv!

Then, just when you think it’s calmed down, it starts up again. And again.

Buildings are smashed into, whole skyscrapers are collapsing, the collateral damage must be off the scale! I looses its way somewhat at the end and whilst reminding you in some senses of Inception, especially the galloping music-bed (so seeing that Christopher Nolan was a producer and Hans Zimmer composed the score is no surprise), it is nowhere near as good as that film was.

Nonetheless, there is an enjoyable centre and when it’s understated it is at its best – Superman in the scene with handcuffs is a great example of a high point. The first time you see him take to the sky and catch the edge of a cloud you smile, the 5th time you’ve had enough and your ears hurt.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe
UK Release: 12th June 2013

The Master

A new film from Paul Thomas Anderson is one that I look out for, especially after his last film (There Will Be Blood) got a 5 on 5 from me a few years ago.

Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays the character of Freddie Quell so well it needs no backstory – you’re straight there within a minute. He’s a naval sailor who’s just finished a tour on a pacific island for WWII. His hunched and crocked manner combined with his obsession with alcoholic concoctions tell you all you need to know right away. The early beach setting is beautiful: opal blue sea with the waves crashing on the sandy shore. This soon gives way to a previous time where the period feel in a department store is very authentic and another environment entirely. This then gives way again as Freddie runs away and stumbles across a boat commanded by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He stows away, hoping to escape his life and find some work as a sailor. We first see Lancaster interrogating him the morning after and they both see a ying to their yang, or perhaps a project, or perhaps nothing but a means to some home-brew and a shag, but either way they are both on the ship for a long time to come.

It promises a lot with the first big exchange (the interrogation over the table) and it never really delivers after that. The characters never really go very far from that point, it just doesn’t live up to the first half an hour. That first period is so well set out, so efficient, so contrasting and then it falls completely flat.

A confrontation with a rational person questioning Lancaster Dodd’s assertions proves funny and one of the stand out scenes to me, but in general it flaps about without deciding on a direction like a flag in the wind, never pointing at one thing and feeling more and more hollow as it goes through. It gets progressively dull and strangely claustrophobic before temporary relief comes in the form of another shot of the pacific beach. The sea looks so beautiful and is such a contrast to the beige, indoor tones we have seen for the past hour and a half it comes as massive visual relief. Sadly we’re back inside again soon, but another voyage out to the salt flats to ride a motorbike offers similar chance to breathe for a minute.

Johnny Greenwood’s score which starts out beautifully plinky-plonky fades into the background as you shuffle in your seat afar 2 hours and 15 minutes waiting for an end which never really comes.

2 on 5

Info
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
UK Release: 16th November 2012