Arrival (2016)


Gladly, this is not your typical ‘alien invasion’ flick, it’s a much smarter story that totally immerses you into a situation filled with dread yet hope, understanding yet confusion. I came out of the film feeling a little lost but it’s a grower because as you think on it the whole idea becomes more interesting.

As 12 shells arrive on Earth and hover above different locations, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called into help the military. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) hopes that she can understand and translate the aliens’ talking and find out why they’re here. Together with scientist and maths man Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) they start uncovering a complex world-changing language.

Coming from ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’ director Denis Villeneuve, you can surely expect tension and smart movie story-telling and you’d be right to do so, as this sci-fi release is burning with clever ideas about language, time and humanity’s fight for survival and knowledge. Villeneuve doesn’t go for any last minute twist, he keeps his film going along and through shots or blurred flashbacks we begin building a picture of what’s to come. What he does well is ensure every scene has importance or emotion and gives moments with the aliens a nervous and affecting tone as we try to grip what may happen.

Eric Heisserer gives the story no cliches or over expositional content, aside from one line near the end of the film, everything we hear sounds plausible and brings you into this alien filled drama with ease. The way he adapts the short story and ensures the Heptapods’ speech is intellectual, so much so that it befuddled my mind but not enough to make me disengage from the movie. This language is a huge factor of the script, connecting to Louise and creating a rounded story that gives ‘Arrival’ fantastic depth.

Back to help Villeneuve is composer Johann Johannsson, who has a superb skill in building tension through music. The dread mounts and through deeper reverberations in the score we feel on edge as the characters go to encounter the Heptapods. A brilliant track comes in with some narration and is used again for the credits, it’s haunting and a chorus of voices makes it more impacting.

Amy Adams in her second November outing, is much more interesting to watch in this compared to ‘Nocturnal Animals’, that’s to say she has more to do and her character is excellent. The subtle flickers of tired emotion that fill her thanks to flashes of events or the way she gleefully acts when breaking ground with the aliens communication all make Louise a captivating role. Jeremy Renner is good also, his smart mathematician role bouncing off Louise very well. Whitaker is a great choice as the military superior, his calmness a good thing as he easily could have been the villain straining for violence. Michael Stuhlbarg is a fine actor, always doing good with what he’s given and here he grows as the film progresses.

It may still have me slightly puzzling over the whole grand scope of time but this is a science fiction that dazzles and if you like a movie to make you think then this is the perfect choice. Performances, writing, directing and music create something to blow your mind like not much before.




The Forest (2016)


Creepily foreboding, this is a nicely wound horror film, perhaps not tightly wound like it could be but there’s still enough worrying moments to find yourselves lost in, as the character herself gets lost in the forest.

Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) hasn’t heard from her identical twin sis for quite a while which worries her. The last Jess was seen was leaving her teaching duties in Japan to enter the apparently dangerous Aokigahara Forest; more troubling as it’s where people go to kill themselves. Sara is adamant Jess is still alive and with the help of a tour guide and Aussie journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) they set off the forest path.

It has a really slow start, cutting from a girl running to Sara’s journey into Tokyo and beyond. The true foresty things don’t really happen till about the 30/40 minute mark. Also for a horror film this isn’t really scary or in fact scary at all. It goes for jump scares, ghosts and morphing faces but they’re ticking the book…that’s all. I don’t mind that though, I liked the more psychological factor it leaned towards.

Jason Zada directs this film knowing the forest imagery is the visual audiences came for and he stuffs this landmark with creepy schoolgirls, hordes of ghosts and mind twisting questions as Sara wonders whether she’s losing the plot or not. In a similar but not as good way as ‘Oculus’ this movie plays on the brain, what’s real, what’s trying to kill you and in a big way, self. Having twins is the first and largest proof of this movie utilising the idea of identity for Sara’s decline.

What I found the most interesting was the forest, the history and spiritual belief behind this place. It is a lush looking ecosystem but wow is it made to look sad and empty. As if the souls of apparent yurei are calling out through the trees. This truth based idea for the forest is deep but sadly the story doesn’t warrant it to go deeper. There’s too many questions at the end and it becomes a standard stab at a horror film.

Natalie Dormer is great, showcasing talents in playing two characters, subtly in the more unhinged Jess compared to the blonde female lead of positive and caring Sara. Taylor Kinney comes in as a good character giving us questions to who he is, if not necessarily giving us the answers we wanted.

It shifts in a untidy way and where it could have triumphed by focusing on the changes into the psychological fear of Sara, it instead becomes lost in the Sea of Trees.


Inside Out (2015)


Thoughtful and brimming with creativity, this is Pixar well and truly back on the scene after a few scratchy patches. The construction, emotion and wonder of what keeps our minds ticking leads the film into some smart colourful set ups with that expected Pixar stamp of heart you can’t dislike.

Minnesota born Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is going through the upheaval of moving to San Francisco with her mum and dad, little knowing that inside her head are the emotions keeping her brain chugging along and aiding her actions. Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) are at the controls until two of the team end up lost in the back-lot of Riley’s mind and need to get back to stop the 11 year old from going awry.

There is so much joy to be had within this film, the colour coded characters for a start lift the film with that bright feeling of bold warmth, reds, blues and yellows shine on the screen gifting us that summer buzz. That could just be me but Pixar have a knack for lighting up cinemas with their tales of objects, be it toys or emotions, delighting audiences and putting some sort of magical glow in my heart. It’s the clever storytelling that keeps them ahead in the game and this is no exception.

Pete Docter directs but also conjured up the story and screenplay along with help from Ronnie del Carmen, Josh Cooley and Meg LeFauve. The process of what goes on inside our skulls could be dark but they give it such unyielding spirit. Of course the plot travels down the sadness route to provide dramatic weight and this is something they always build up well. The straining family backdrop accompanied by the struggle of keeping Riley as they want is tense and believable, considering that the film is about walking talking emotions in our heads.

Also, there’s such fantastic rewards to be had in the journey that we go on with two of the emotions. Discovering what the subconscious, long term memory and other thought processes look like is a visual treat. The story makes room for clever openings on how we work as people and what could be behind our eyes helping us make decisions. Concepts of imaginary friends and forgotten memories all truly make you think when Pixar are at the wheel.

Michael Giacchino composes and you can feel that same emotive sense in the music that he crafted for ‘Up’. It bounces along when necessary making you happy and when the troubles begin bubbling away the music becomes tense, not too dark for the kids but worrying enough that you feel the desired emotions. I’m worried about how many times I’m writing the word emotions in this film review. But seriously, it stirs up the right…feels.

Animation wise, the content is gorgeous, the flaking static design of the main emotions and how each one suits their host body is perfect. The memory balls are shining, the view of Riley’s islands is intelligent and detailed and once the journey begins seeing the wonderful ways the brain could be if we were so lucky is fascinating. A dream scene and the little moment of abstraction and turning into broken pieces and 2D art is a cool sequence to watch. It’s a provoking and warm welcome back to this studio and their work.

All the voices suit greatly, Amy Poehler brings a peppy kick to Joy and though she’s control obsessed you can’t help but like her for the sunny disposition she has on the story. The golden voice has to be with Phyllis Smith who somehow makes you laugh and empathise with someone so one tone in their speech. Simply put, it’s a fantastically delivered role. Bill Hader freaks out in a non annoying way as Fear, Mindy Kaling manages to make you smirk as the person inside all of us wanting to spit the truth and Lewis Black blows his top being Anger, the rough determination speaking to all of us who want to get mad. As I mentioned the voices suit greatly, making the characters stand out as individual and integral.

It’s something that is more than worth one watch just to break up the unoriginal trash that floods cinemas consistently. It’s so damn inventive, fun and emotional that inside and out this movie does everything it needs to entice and excite people of every age. No disgust or anger, just sheer joy.