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

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

Prometheus

Ridley Scott returns to the sci-fi genre after such incredible success many years ago with ‘Bladerunner’ and ‘Alien’. James Cameron directed the follow-up ‘Aliens’ which was also well received before the wheels fell off the franchise ending with the ‘Alien vs Predator’ films which I have to confess I haven’t seen. Now comes the reboot with the fashionable prequel trilogy: this film is kind of to ‘Alien’ what ‘The Phantom Menace’ is to Star Wars, at least chronologically, but we all know how bad ‘The Phantom Menace’ is, so how has Ridley handled the Pre-Alien universe?

The film starts with the long and quiet journey through space of the ship Prometheus, the sleeping/suspended crew attentively watched over by the android David, played by Michael Fassbender. The crew are awoken a day from their destination planet and their expedition is explained to them as for many of them this is the first time they’ve met.

This is the first of a long string of plot-holes the size of planets and inconceivable decisions taken by characters who appear to be there mostly for decoration they are so shallow and generic.

There are two exceptions to this:
1) The aforementioned Fassbender, who is simply brilliant and provides all the interest in the story. The Android David also helps to patch up a few of the holes in the plot with his master (looking like the old Biff from the ‘Back To The Future’ series but weirdly played by Guy Pearce in prosthetics) perhaps offering an explanation as to why the crew are so slap-dash, unprepared and unscientific in their quest in that maybe their quest is a means to an end of achieving the real objective of the mission.
2) Noomi Rapace (who Played Lisbeth Salander in ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’) as lead scientist Elisabeth Shaw who shows herself to be an incredibly diverse actress by here playing a completely different role and a character that she establishes almost completely in the first few seconds on the screen.
Charlize Theron plays the icy commander but doesn’t really have enough time or the lines to do anything with.

The story is essentially the same as ‘Alien’ – discover planet, go explore, everything appears dead, or is it – but this time round there isn’t the claustrophobic tension and terror rather there are wide open expanses and impressive vistas and it has to be said the design of the film is something to admire. Little details like the laser-scanning spheres are great and you get a real sense of scale with the big valleys on the planet. The space suits look cool too and there are a few really nice set-pieces in the vein of the facehuggers bursting from the chest, but this is not a film like ‘Alien’ that is going to redefine the language of cinema.

The standard story is dressed up in a pretty stupid but grandiose smattering of ‘who are we?’ ruminations, but these are very unnaturally scripted and the whole film is wrapped up in a very deflating way. It does feel a little like a step on the franchise rather than a standalone artistic vision.

So in summary, impressive vistas and cgi, visually great, Fassbender and Rapace are great but there’s many a better film could be made with those ingredients without having to add a flat support cast and a plot full of holes.

3 on 5

Info:
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Faasbender, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron
UK Release: 1st June 2012

Moon

I watched this when it first came out a year or so ago now, but was recently heard some of the great original music by Clint Mansell used somewhere else and it reminded me of the film. It’s a science fiction film set at a point in the imagined future where The Moon is being mined in an automated way with a single person overseeing the whole operation accompanied only by the computer Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey, who doesn’t play it like HAL from 2001 as you might expect). Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his 3 year stint on the moon and looking forward to returning home when some odd things start happening.

It’s a lonely and contemplative place to be for Sam: a place so vast and open that it’s oppressive. It’s a film in the genre of a classic Sci-Fi and it creates a really good atmopshere thanks to the visuals and sets (including lots of models) and the restrained acting by Sam Rockwell.

Doesn’t leave you with a ‘wow!’, but has you thinking, it lingers with you and it creates a space that is both calming and tense at the same time.

4 on 5

Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Sam Rockwell
UK Release: 17 July 2009