Science Fiction

Arrival

arrival

Arrival (2016) – Science Fiction | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

How I Watched: Theatres

Best Line: “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

The events of the last two weeks have been rough on a lot of us. No matter which way you would like to slice it, the truth is that the world has fundamentally changed. Some of us are clinging to reality in a strange existential fog while others are sitting back and waiting to see what will happen. I’m not suggesting that writer Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villenueve saw the future when making Arrival, but I think it’s safe to suggest that they did a good job tapping into the anger, frustration and confusion floating like a cloud above our planet right now.

On the surface, Arrival is a pretty hard Sci-Fi film, borrowing elements from some of the most revered movies in the genre. For those who don’t know, the movie begins with an “arrival” as 12 mysterious and enormous objects suddenly appear across the globe without any apparent intentions. The US government enlists the help of language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to perhaps obtain this intent. The film is unapologetic with its use of aliens and these are some of the better aliens I’ve ever seen. When it comes down to it though, Arrival  is a pretty great drama.

Those that have seen Amy Adams in movies like DoubtThe Fighter and American Hustle know that she can handle herself in a dramatic role. This however, is something different. Adams absolutely owns this film, delivering an incredibly heartbreaking performance that is both devastating and thought-provoking in the most mind-fucking way possible. We’ve all seen Inception and we’ve all experienced the occasional Shyamalan twist, but what Arrival gives us is a whole new meaning to crazy.

I’ve only seen a couple of Villenueve’s movies (I haven’t seen Sicario yet – I know, I’m just the worst), but Prisoners rocked my world with its twist-filled darkness. Enemy with Jake Gylenhaal is probably more closely related to Arrival with its utterly bothersome climax. Something that Villenueve is definitely great at though, is using darkness to stun his audience. Like David Lynch, his movies are dark, muted and a bit relentless in the shock value. There’s plenty of shock in Arrival so be prepared.

Speaking of shock, holy shit, the aliens. I won’t go too far into it, but the Lovecraftian brilliance that they put into these things was astounding. I talked to a friend last night that also saw the movie and he described them as “a big bucket of nope.” While I can see why someone would say that, I wanted to see more of them. Perhaps though, how Villenueve presented them was perfect, as their appearances did not take away from the incredible storyline either. However, if aliens frighten you, I’d stay away from this one.

The most important part of Arrival to me was the narrative concerning international relations. Amid the invasion, the countries in which a ship landed each investigated the ships in their own way. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that each country does not agree on how these ships should be handled, which leads to an all-out international crisis. This hit way too close for home for me, as my fears for how the world is currently treating itself looked a lot like this. I know, I know, it’s a movie about aliens, but this really struck a chord in me that I was not expecting walking into the theater.

I was a little stunned to find as much meaning as I did from Arrival. While it’s a really cool science fiction movie about aliens making first contact, it cleverly delivers a statement about the shape the world is in right now. I enjoy the way Denis Villenueve works and absolutely expect Arrival to shake things up this awards season. Science-Fiction is not generally treated very well at the Academy, but movies that have something to say with relevance about us as a species generally do. So don’t be shocked when this one gets heaped up toward the top.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Enemy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds

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31 Days of Horror – ‘Scanners’

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Scanners

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Stephen Lack and Michael Ironside

Review by CinemAbysmal

OK, so maybe this is not technically a horror movie in the classic sense. However, it is a David Cronenberg film so it’s unsettling enough at every turn that it feels like a horror movie. There are certainly parts that are horrifying; the infamous head explosion, for instance. Really though, this is just an intense movie all around. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but Cronenberg lets the film breathe, not really punching everything up until the very end.

This is my first time seeing this movie. I know a lot of people reading this probably already have, but I just never got around to it. I really enjoy a lot of Cronenberg films, (ExistenzA History of ViolenceNaked Lunch, the list goes on and on), so I’m not sure why it took so long to watch it. After finishing, I really wish I watched it sooner. The effects (for 1981) are absolutely amazing and disgusting, the pacing is strange but in a way, beautiful and god dammit, Howard Shore’s score is haunting and perfect for the movie.

One complaint I must lodge, is the main character, Cameron’s (Stephen Lack) acting. It’s so unbearable to hear him speak, that you can’t help but feel disconnected from the story for a good portion of the film. His lines are hamfisted and even his most general of reactions are not even convincingly human. That’s alright though, because the fantastically vicious Michael Ironside is there to balance out the awfulness with his creepy villain, Darryl Revok. Ironside is incredible in this and really carries the movie all the way to the end.

Cronenberg is a weird dude. Maybe it’s because he’s deeply Canadian, but that’s alright with me. I dig the hell out of the Canadians. From The Kids in the Hall to Denis Villenueve to Ivan Reitman, some of my favorite works come out of that wonderfully beautiful country. And after watching Scanners, I’ll just have to add another one to that ever-growing list.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982) – Science Fiction | Action

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

How I Watched: Blu-Ray

Best Line: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

The first time I saw Blade Runner, it was playing on cable in standard definition and it was the spectacularly underwhelming theatrical version. For those unfamiliar, Blade Runner has had a tumultuous history, and seven versions exist that we know of. I really enjoy Ridley Scott’s films, but after seeing that cut of Blade Runner, I had no real intention of watching any other version as it left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. What I did take note of though, was the world that Scott had created as well as the incredibly cool Vangelis score. So when I heard that a sequel was being made by a director that I really respect (Prisoners‘ Denis Villenueve), I thought I’d give The Final Cut a try. And god damn, I’m glad I did.

Perhaps it is not fair to dislike a film for something as minute as voiceovers, but when it comes down to it, this is the main culprit behind my disdain of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. Harrison Ford’s narration is cheesy and comes across as condescending, as if we’re too stupid to follow the storyline. It almost reveals too much about Ford’s character Deckard, and strips away the natural mystery that Scott intended for the audiences. It’s a ham-fisted approach and honestly changes the tone of the entire film. Luckily in The Final Cut, this narration has been completely removed.

It’s obvious how much influence this film has had on the genre of Science Fiction. The neons and electronic score, flying cars, cascading skyscrapers, hyperrealistic androids and dystopian future are all on full display throughout Blade Runner. It’s easy to see why many consider this the peak of Sci-Fi film. Truth is though, this movie is more closely related to noir fims like L.A. Confidential or Chinatown.

The themes that Blade Runner address are deeply philosophical and grow exponentially larger once the film’s antihero Roy Batty (a ridiculously good Rutger Hauer) is introduced. Like many throughout history, Roy is consumed by the philosophy of what it is to be alive and those limits we must all face. I have a feeling that Ridley Scott underestimated Hauer’s acting chops and there is tragically too little of Roy Batty by the time the credits roll.

The set design is perhaps, Blade Runner‘s greatest cinematic achievement. The slow zooming aerial shots are incredibly breathtaking, and though at times you can tell that these shots feature scaled models, the detail is amazingly unbelievable. Scott created a world (with the assistance of H.R. Giger) that was almost revolting in Alien and a good amount of that carried over in Blade Runner. I’ve always been impressed with the dreamworlds in Terry Gilliam’s movies (none more than Brazil) and I get the same feeling from the set design in Blade Runner.

The score by 1980’s electronic virtuoso Vangelis, is one of the most important additions to the movie. I cannot imagine any other score than this synthesizer-soaked soundtrack sweeping over the shots of the dark dystopian metropolis. The neon-lit rain and absolute darkness are accompanied perfectly by the music and it gives a feeling of such wonder, that you can’t help but want to visit this insane landscape.

I’ve heard that “The Director’s Cut” version of the film is the next best way to go if you can’t get your hands on The Final Cut. Unfortunately, this version was not actually supervised by Ridley Scott and instead was rushed out to the public by the studio in 1992. I picked this version up on Laserdisc a few years ago, but did not watch it in fear of being let down by what was left out compared to The Final Cut. All I can say is, if it’s your first time seeing this movie, be safe and make sure it is this Final Cut. The theatrical version is relatively terrible to this and if you enjoy Science Fiction, you owe it to yourself to see The Final Cut.

Final Score: 4/4

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Similar Films: Looper, Total Recall (1990), Brazil