“Arrival” movie review

arrivalposterYou’ll want to see it again. Prepare yourself for an extraordinary cinematic journey in this science-fiction thriller complete with commentary on the human condition. From the exhilarating cinematography to the incredible awe-inspiring visual effects, Arrival will have you hooked from the very beginning. Based on the book Story of Your Life and Directed by Denis Villeneuve (SicarioPrisoners), Arrival boasts an outstanding cinematic experience that is as much cerebral as it is visceral. Your very perceptions of time and memory will be questioned and force you to open your mind to endless possibilities. Poignantly, this film takes you on a journey that will show you that we need to change and that we can change. On the verge of avant-garde, Arrival pushes the limits of traditional visual storytelling and creates an innovative method for conveying social commentary within the science-fiction genre. Following the final fade to black, you’ll want to discuss this film with your friends. Reignite your sense of wonder. Arrival is more than a story; it’s an experience!

After twelve egg-like unidentified objects land on earth, the U.S. Government calls upon expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to crack the mystery and develop a means of communication with the homogenous alien species. While much of the world is on the brink of an all-out assault on the aliens, Banks is determined to establish a rapport and open communications with the species. Starting with basic words and working up to complex sentences, Banks knows she has to learn the aliens’ language in order to better understand why they have come. When things take a turn for the worst, Banks and Donnelly have precious little time to stop countries from engaging in battle with risk of war. With so little time to unravel the mystery of why the aliens are here and what they want, Banks will find herself on a mind-blowing journey of her own.

You’ve just got to see it. There is so much that I want to talk about, but it would spoil so much of the film. I’ve mentioned before that there are great ‘movies’ that are mediocre ‘films,’ but this is a prime example of an excellent movie AND brilliant film. The brilliance of this film is not in the stunning visuals, although that is certainly part of it; the brilliance lies within the cinematic and experiential storytelling. During the big reveal at the end of the film, your mind will be blown. You’ll find yourself wanting to watch it again to more clearly understand the strategic placement of the pieces of the puzzle. During a time in which the country appears so incredibly fractured, this film will provide audiences with a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for that which one may not fully understand. Making the tough calls and putting one’s life at risk of what is right is also woven throughout this story. The theme of Arrival is not fully realized until the latter half of the film. More than a surface-level story about that which I cannot mention without giving it away, this film possesses a dynamic range of themes just beckoning for interpretation. As this film bares much similarity to avant-garde cinema in the reimagining of traditional storytelling, it will evoke a powerful emotional response.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles. Taking center stage for most of the film, Adams breaks new ground as an actor in this role that is nearly a complete departure from most of her other roles. Both Adams and Renner display excellent chemistry in their respective characters. Although Adams is the central character and responsible for the drive of the plot, Renner is strategically placed to reinforce the affects Adams’ character has upon the plot. Forest Whitaker also plays a strong colonel and was an excellent choice for his role as well. The success of the cast can be attributed to both the outstanding direction from Villeneuve and the incredible screenplay by Eric Heisserer. Bradford Young’s cinematography is so simple but yet so beautiful and profound. It is of no surprise that this film is being touted as one of the best movies of the year and has a nearly unprecedented 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether you are a linguist yourself or just enjoy an exhilarating cinematic journey, Arrival is definitely the film to catch this weekend. For the Star Trek TNG or Voyager fans out there, you will find that Arrival possesses some of the same great content that sets Star Trek apart from other science-fiction shows due to the human condition being central to the overall plot. If you enjoy movies that prompt you to revisit how you perceive your life, time, or space, then you will not be disappointed. There are so many levels to this film. You’ll likely find yourself wanting to see it again after fully realizing the innovative plot. Hopefully this film receives some Oscar noms in the upcoming award season.

“Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation” movie review

MI5Mission: Resurgent. The fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise is surprisingly good. Ordinarily, this far into a franchise, the stories and plots can begin to suffer; but, Paramount Pictures continues the TV series turned cinema powerhouse with great promise for a continued successful run. I don’t think the Mission: Impossible library will ever have quite the allure that James Bond has, but it fairs better than the Bourne franchise. All three definitely perform well, but Mission: Impossible is unique in that Tom Cruise truly sells the movie. Unlike in Hollywood’s Golden Age (~1920s-50s) when particular actors were truly regarded as stars and would essentially sell the movie to audiences and investors, most of today’s movies are not built on the backs of particular fixtures in the star system. There are a few exceptions out there, but Tom Cruise is definitely an actor that is as close to an old-fashioned movie star as we can see and have in contemporary cinema. If you’re looking for a great popcorn movie that you can just chill-ax at, then checkout the latest movie in this unkillable franchise.

With the IMF now disbanded and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out in the cold, a new threat — called the Syndicate — soon emerges. The Syndicate is a network of highly skilled operatives who are dedicated to establishing a new world order via an escalating series of terrorist attacks. Faced with what may be the most impossible mission yet, Ethan gathers his team and joins forces with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed British agent who may or may not be a member of this deadly rogue nation. (IMDb, 2015).

Due of the very nature of these movies, I don’t feel it necessary to pick apart the plot because it is purposely high concept and requires the audience to engage in a momentary suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the action and adventure. That being said, the movie is pretty solidly acted, written, shot, and directed. I was a little disappointed in that the most impressive sequence of events, involving the plane taking off with Ethan hanging on for dear life, is right at the beginning of the film and everything else pales in comparison. It follows a fairly standard order of tropes common to high concept espionage-action-adventure films. Despite the very contemporary nature of this espionage movie, there is a classic feel that is successfully woven throughout the narrative.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers2The Avengers: Age of DULLtron. Get ready for the first big movie to usher in the summer blockbuster season. Only, you will probably find you enjoyed the first Avengers better. Writer-Director Joss Whedon returns with the highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 smash hit. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mesmerizing, overly stuffed science-fiction/fantasy that will, in the end, leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Unlike the previous installment, this flashy yet underperforming sequel lacks satisfying plot development. It’s almost as if the movie is at its climax the entire time, with no apparent windup, little exposition, and nearly non-existent rising action. There are movies that are two-parters that have no business being split, and there are others that are one-movie that desperately needed its story to be told over two films–this is the latter. There was such potential in the story, but the plot was executed poorly. If the writers paid more attention to and spent more time on plot development and less time on funny one-liners and running jokes, which are quite appropriate and help keep the dialog balanced, then we may have had a better movie.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron takes us on an a high energy journey around the world from Eastern Europe to Africa to New York City. At the center of the movie is a once-dormant peacekeeping program initiative that was designed by the brilliant engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) that was inadvertently activated and developed an artificial intelligence of its own with a dark vision of what peace should look like. Taking to the internet, the AI peacekeeping program (aka Ultron) is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Teaming up with Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man and the Avengers must overcome personal differences and ban together to confront the peacekeeping initiative that is hell-bent on destruction. Ultron, along with other enhanced humans designed by Striker will prove to be the most daunting enemy faced by our heroes, and will have to work together like they have never done before to save the world from catastrophe.

Sounds like a great movie right?!? Well, not so fast. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the movie truly had great potential and, despite its short comings, has a phenomenal cast. But, the story structure and well-crafted writing just wasn’t there. The plot is quite dull. It really is almost as though this was a glorified filler movie to make way for the next installment Avengers: Infinity War Part 1. From a technical perspective, the film is fantastic! The special-effects, practical effects, and CGI were woven together seamlessly. Both the cinematography and direction demonstrated a true gift for telling a story visually. And, to that, I applaud the filmmakers for a commitment to visual storytelling. With the exception of the casting of Maria Hill, a role better suited for Anne Hathaway than Cobie Smulders, the cast was once again brilliantly selected and truly brought the iconic comic book characters to life for the silver screen. The additional roles of Quick Silver (Aaron Tyler-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) were also cast impeccably. And I do not feel anyone besides James Spader could have brought such life and incarnate fear to the voice of Ultron.

Before I tackle the shortfalls of the plot, the character of Ultron needs to be examined. Most any competent filmmaker, or more specifically screenwriter, will tell you that a well-developed story needs a protagonist with a well-defined external goal (often accompanied by an internal goal), and in this respect this film checks that box off; however, a screenplay–especially one of this genre–needs a well-defined antagonist with both an external and internal goal as well. And in addition to the goals of the antagonist, we also need to love or love to hate the villain. Knowing WHY the villain/antagonist does what he or she does is paramount to proper character development. Unfortunately, the audience is not told why Ultron hates humanity so much, unless you count the CNN footage Ultron quickly scrubs through in his rushed genesis. It is never a good idea for a writer-director to just expect the audience to accept the actions of the antagonist without explanation or reason. Not knowing why Ultron is determined to create peace by destroying humanity without reasonable exposition does not create a well-developed character. Whether dealing with a protagonist or his/her opposition, it should never be expected for an audience to engage in blind acceptance.

Here’s where the plot went wrong. Now, in order to critique the plot, it is unfortunately necessary to reveal information that may, but not necesserilly, spoil the movie for those who are unfamiliar with the story or the comic book series. But, I will do my best to not reveal too much. At the center of the movie is this dormant peacekeeping AI initiative designed by Stark Industries called Ultron. Funny how it was never acknowledged in the previous film and came across as a plot gimmick just to hurriedly explain the vague origins of Ultron. The simple and elementary observation of the disregard for proper story structure is evident through the fact the movie lacks an adequate introduction and development/rising action. We basically go from a rushed first act and touch on the second act, then skip directly to a bloviated third act. Where’s the windup? Not here. Being a science-fiction movie, that means that certain laws of science should be adhered to in order to increase the believability and sell-ability of the story. Most anyone who has taken a science class in middle or high school knows that the higher the elevation, the lower the oxygen level, the lower the oxygen level, the slower the brain functions and the more mitigated the functionality of the lungs. I just don’t buy the fact that no one suffers from high altitude sickness when the Eastern European city hangs in the atmosphere above the mountains. The lack of oxygen isn’t even mentioned at all. Even if you buy the fact that the Avengers have somehow overcame this physiological obstacle, the citizens of the city are certainly bound by normal human respiration and circulation.

Over-all the movie is exciting and, despite its shortcomings, is a perfect movie to usher in the coveted summer blockbuster season. It is the first of many highly anticipated summer movies including Disney’s Tomorrowland and Universal’s Jurassic World. Hopefully the next installment in The Avengers series will make up for the structural and logical fallacies in this movie, and spend more time on the writing for the next one. Whether you’re a comic book or super hero fan or not, this is definitely a movie that will add excitement to your weekend. And, for those that are graduating this weekend and next, this film makes for a great way to start a weekend of parties and celebrations.