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 Theory of Everything (2015)


I love this time of year, new beginnings and resolutions may be some people’s great outlooks but I happily accept the influx of heavyweight movies lining up for award ceremony recognition. This is one of those movies. A biopic of one of the most famous male icons is developed through touching and beautiful storytelling led by two tour de force performances.

This film journeys from 60’s Cambridge to detail the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and literary student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). It tells of their growing love and togetherness, strongly shown as Hawking is diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease leaving him declining in abilities and putting Jane front and centre as strong caring wife and mother as Stephen continues with his scientific theories.

By far this is the sentimental piece of the possible nomination crowd, the romantic biographical stance feels like the ’12 Years A Slave’ type and so that bodes well for this James Marsh directed story. On the whole, the romance is never sickly and forced, at least shared with Stephen and Jane it’s developed fantastically. The relationship feels so real and chemistry between the two actors is precise and authentic that you honestly believe you’re watching people and not stars doing their job.

If you want to see an emotional tale that not only feels but looks beautiful then this is the one for you. Cambridge couldn’t be more of a perfect English setting to backdrop the coming together of this strong willed minds and Benoit Delhomme captures the posh stunning landscape of the area in a great way that compliments the tone of the film really well. In general this film is softly felt, the look is not glowing but kind of rounded in the edges, making that romantic side of things more pronounced and most of the time this works to its benefit.

There’s creative and lovely imagery to be found in relations of subject and character. As Stephen begins his thoughts on black holes and the start of life, milk in his coffee begins to dance reflecting the vision of rolling black holes, once again as he’s weaker and relying on Jane to help him pull a jumper on his determined character makes him see a light-bulb moment that aids his theory. This is shown through the fireplace manifesting as swirling stars and burning orange mirroring space and the spark setting off in Stephen’s mind. The end cycling back through past events and stopping back on the young Jane and Stephen is also a wonderful moment in helping us relate to Hawking’s poetic yet scientific comment on there being no boundaries in life.

It has a good dose of humour that stops the film from being as overbearingly sentimental as it may otherwise have been. The smart and witty remarks from Stephen are brilliant and the way his disability is spoken of is funny, not taking the mick but lovingly poking fun at a man who can clearly take it. This humourous shine distracts just enough from the clear audible shoving of music to try and make you well up.

I think the main problem the film has are in a few certain moments where it pushes you to feel a specific way. Flaws laying in wishy washy manipulation aren’t to be overlooked and perhaps without the rising orchestral score being ever present, the emotion wouldn’t be as strong and tears wouldn’t be shed. The Wagner show for instance is a tad too dramatically done to but some backing to Stephen’s predicament, so too in a stained glass window magically glowing with sunlight as two characters kiss, it’s a little bit manufactured making it feel like a movie and losing the amazing reality Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are bringing to the picture.

Eddie Redmayne is in one word – outstanding. There’s no shadow of a doubt that he’ll be nominated and though I haven’t seen all of the other possible Oscar nods for lead actor, I’d agree with him winning. The immersion into this intelligent, funny man and the shocking heartbreaking disease that takes over his and Jane’s lives are so lovingly done, it’s like Stephen Hawking is on screen and not Redmayne. The twitches and crooked movements, the wide smile and the general absorbing presence he exudes make it one of the best male performances I’ve seen in a long time. Felicity Jones should also get nominated as she brings a forceful heroine onto the screens, she’s at first delicate and then tired but strong. It’s clear to see the way she feels from just the look in her eyes, she’s exhausted and needs someone else, Jones polishes the loving yet possibly lost wife with magnificence.

Aside from a handful of twee moments, this is a phenomenal biopic with pristine direction, hair, make up and costume and two magnetic and marvelous lead performances that’s it’s paved the way for 2015 very well indeed.


Interstellar (2014)


Christopher Nolan returns after his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy duties, with probably the grandest big screen event release this year. It might be a slight pushy to compare it as this movie calendar’s ‘Gravity’ but it certainly fits in that realm. Stunning sci-fi, outstanding performances and the long dark quiet of space to shock you into awe. At nearly three hours long, it can certainly be said that this is an epic tale, there are moments that lull or stretch scientific imagination a tad far but it’s great to see something so bold be conveyed on the screen it deserves to live on.

Living in a bleak and dusty future is widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children Tom and Murph (Timothee Chalamet & Mackenzie Foy). Crops are dying and the only profession left to aspire to is being a farmer to try and save humanity. Though after stumbling on a secret building Cooper realises to try and help Earth he must leave it. A wormhole has opened up leading to the chance of interstellar travel and the hope to find a planet habitable for the world’s population.

That’s as far as I can really go in terms of detail, that’s the bare bones without spoiling more of the inner workings of the plot and the science backdrop. Sufficed to say, on the whole this script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan is filled with gorgeous sci-fi material, it’s very intelligent in places too and can definitely be classed as one of the cleverer blockbusters to be released in a long while. Saying that, some of the terminology may lose audiences and non fans of sci-fi may not enjoy the film. It also loses itself in places just because the movie length is long, moments yawn out too much and one significant twist to do with dimensions feels drawn out and glossed over in reasoning of how. There’s know how there but it will 100% lose quite a lot of people.

As with all of Nolan’s recent films, you can go in expecting glorious spectacle. The landscapes they discover are beautiful and worrying. The feel of the craft spinning or just floating in space leaves you watching with a powerful sense of wonder. After quite a non-impactful opening set up of character and location, the true art of Nolan’s mastery is revealed up in the inky magic of space. Icy sheets, wave ridden worlds and rippled wormhole delights truly engage you, the IMAX is the best way of seeing these images. The 70mm photography is majestic and though it probably looks alright on a standard screen, IMAX is Nolan’s area, picture and sound quality are amplified to perfection and truly immerse you into this crisp new solar system.

In keeping with the sound, Hans Zimmer conjures up a brilliant score to accompany the visuals of this film. Striking out with more tense ridden dramatic sounds that pile on pressure and suspense in relation to docking on a ship or lovingly crafting more slowed down eerily filled blurs of guitar and strings that encapsulate the amazement yet hollow scariness of space. There’s no ‘Inception’-esque big drums to shudder the seats, the more relaxed score works better than that, lovingly contributing to this brave new world.

All performances are unshakable in this film. Matthew and McConaissance are still in great flow with his leading role sticking more in the calm side of things yet he excels in his grand moments of teary scenes and panicked uncertainty. A scene featuring Matthew McConaughey will no doubt bring some audience members to tears as it nearly did with me, it’s a stunningly real scene, no CGI or sweeping visuals needed. Family and love thrive throughout and he truly shows that in this scene. Anne Hathaway gets more in touch with emotions of the human heart and her interactions with McConaughey are greatly acted, she’s a counter balance to Cooper’s sturdier relaxed manner yet she has moments to shine in realising where they should go. Michael Caine is the man to explain integral parts of the plot, as he so often does and throughout this film he expands on the broken mentality of scientific exploration, becoming even more fragile and weary than his Alfred was in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Other cast members play just as important roles in the film, Mackenzie Foy is an actress with superb emotional weight and one performer to keep an eye on. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain get differing moments to tell their stories but both are solid actors and Chastain really shines. This isn’t even mentioning the splendour of Jon Lithgow, David Gyasi and some humourous work from robot voices Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart. A magnificent cast to match the magnificence of the film’s visual dazzle and one nicely masked guest spot works fantastically in the story and wow moment.

A very thought provoking drama that serves as a love story more than the clearly obvious science fiction setting. Family, togetherness and instincts of the heart keep cropping up and they make this film more than an average space journey. Even if some of the story tries going places it maybe shouldn’t have and can sometimes feel slightly stuffed with bewildering talk, the majority of Christopher Nolan’s directing feat works rather than not.

‘Interstellar’ will probably only be hugely loved by Nolan or sci-fi fans but I think others can and will like or appreciate that the daring aspects of the adventure are worth it and it scratches ever so near to being a flat out masterpiece.