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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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

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

Shutter Island

Leonardo Di Caprio teams up with Martin Scorsese again for an old fashioned psychological crime thriller. Leonardo plays US Marshal (a bit like a cop) Teddy Daniels who starts the film travelling on a ferry to the titular island with his new partner Chuck Aule to investigate a missing person from the hospital for the criminally insane. Once on the island the staff appear to be polite but obstructive and secretive, leading Teddy to believe there is more than meets the eye to this investigation.

The film is directed beautifully as you appreciate with the hindsight of the fullness of the whole story that it has to get the actors to tread a fine line with their performances, which it manages very well. From the moment we are introduced to Teddy he looks strained and a little unwell and the atmosphere of the island serves only to make him feel more so. It is set in the years immediately post-WWII where Teddy served as a soldier and the terrible things he witnessed clearly influence who is is now and also make him intolerant of human injustices.

Ben Kingsley is absolutely fantastic as Psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley who simultaneously comes across kind and sinister, keeping you wondering what’s going on and Michelle Williams has a great supporting role as Teddy’s wife.

The soundtrack is full of parping and harrumphing as if you’ve never left the ferry from the opening scene and the story has some pretty abstract visuals. In fact, this is not for the faint hearted as there are some disturbing and sad moments.

The 2 hour running time flies by and the big final act of the film is a joy to watch.

4 on 5

Info
Director: Marin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine
UK Release: 12th March 2010

Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is the director of some great films and someone who clearly holds cinema very dearly and wants it to not just survive but to thrive. After a string of hits he is apparently more or less able to make the films he wants the way he wants, but I can’t help thinking that the old adage that constraints help creative thinking applies a little bit here. I mean, take a look at the graph below.

There’s a worrying trend there! So let’s cut to the chase – this film could have done with loosing 40 minutes and not just because it’s too long – the entire last act didn’t really work for me. I found that there was an awful lot of completing the circle that didn’t need to be done: more than that, would have been better not done. Which is a shame because there are some spectacular and enjoyable sections and it is certainly an ambitious film that lives up to the epic name.

It starts in a near-future dystopian landscape of failing crops and dust storms in what is presented as a world of corn fields and a diminished human species. At the same time there are vox-pops reminiscing about the times of hardship, so we already know that we are watching the past as far as the film universe is concerned and that there is a better outlook in the present.

Matthew mcconaughey is convincing as Cooper, the former NASA pilot running a farm but desperate to punch out of the stifling, future-less world. Cooper’s father-in-law Donald (Jon Lithgow) is resigned to the current situation, his son wants to be a farmer too but his daughter’s dreams are in the stars.

After a lot of scene-setting we seem to leave the farm all at once and it is then exciting as things are building, which helps to hide the large amounts of exposition at times. This is where the film shines with some spectacular settings, realistic in-film mechanics and inspired plot devices (but some dodgy robots!). Hans Zimmer’s score is much more stripped down than previously and there are a lot of loud simple organ sounds which will no doubt become familiar over the next few years.

And then it’s a shame as we arrive at the last 40 minutes or so and the pages of the plot seem to come apart and flutter away in the breeze. It’s an enjoyable watch for most of the film, but ultimately ephemeral.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck UK Release: 29th October 2014

20,000 Days On Earth

Presented as a sort of day in the life documentary, this film has Nick Cave ruminating on his childhood, his love of performing music and his career so far at the milestone of 20,000 days on earth (just shy of 55 years). It also shows some insights into the creative process of writing music and some studio performances of whole songs on the new Nick Cave And the Bad Seeds album Push the Sky Away.

And it’s really good! It’s very interesting spending time with Nick, driving along the coast road in Brighton, getting insights into his playful character and his constructed stage personality. As he plays with a new idea for a song at one point his band mate tells him it sounds like a Lionel Ritchie song and that’s it ruined! He is one of the few people that would write lyrics about driving down to Geneva with the Higgs boson blues, manage to work in references to Hannah Montana and somehow make it all work. The music is great too and the studio sessions feel very open and intimate and the film culminates with a live performance, crescendoing with a wall of noise.

Nick’s constructed world might not be to everyone’s liking, but I really enjoyed it.

4 on 5

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Directed by: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard
Starring: Nick Cave, Susie Bick, Warren Ellis, Darian Leader, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue UK Release: 19th September 2014

The Imitation Game

Alan Turing’s is a story that must not slip away from collective memory, so it’s a good subject for a film. It concerns the life and achievements of the man who worked to try and break the encrypted messages from the nazis in WWII and his subsequent treatment by the country’s legal system.

There are some great performances here: Benedict Cumberbatch giving Alan Turing completeness and Alex Lawther as the young Alan heartbreaking in one scene in particular. Kiera Knightley is very good as well, but the stand-out performance for me has to be Charles Dance. He plays Commander Alastair Denniston, a man with high-ranking military confidence and reserve but with a foot stuck in the less complex world of conflicts of the past.

It uses an interesting 3-timeline structure but also feels like it has to inject excitement into the process of code deciphering and computer architecture. This leads it to take a few too many poetic licences with the story where they perhaps are not needed.

Worth watching if you’re not familiar with Turing’s tale and worth watching for the great performances.

3 on 5

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Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Rory Kinnear UK Release: 14th November 2014

Chico And Rita

This animated film opens in modern day Havana, Cuba, but we are soon transported back to the beautifully drawn cityscape in 1948 where Chico is a confident pianist out on a night dancing who is captivated by the beautiful singer Rita, although she is not so keen.

The film follows the story of Chico and Rita, which mainly consists of laborious cycles of Chico stalking Rita, who plays hard to get but relents and is then heartbroken by Chico’s stupid actions. Away from the main characters and about midway through the film a man called Chano Pozo appears. He is fantastic and brings a bit of comedy and a change of style, but sadly he is no more than a cameo.

The background drawings and cityscapes are beautiful. The foreground people are not quite as good: still nice but they are very strangely animated and appear to be disconnected with the backgrounds, floating around quite oddly. It’s a style that might look unique for the dancing scenes, but looks lacking elsewhere.

It’s alright.

2 on 5

Info
Directed by: Tono Errando, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal Starring: Lenny Mandel, Limara Meneses
UK release: 19th November 2010