Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

_90843681_890a8bd8-6501-11e6-aefa-e8609c477948_486x

 

Movie review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 

Movie reviews

Hey Hey Hey!

The wait is finally over! We now have a movie that shows the two greatest superheroes fighting one another. Without further ado, let’s dig-in into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

IMDb summary: Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

Before we start: I have done a preview post for this film, in which I discussed my hopes for the movie and gave you my thoughts on the casting choices, Snyder’s previous work and DCCU in general. I won’t be repeating those things in here, so I highly suggest that you check out that other post first!

Since I’m posting my review on Saturday and the movie has been out for a couple of days, I will be talking about SPOILERS!

Audience

Before BvS was released, a lot of news sites reported that the majority of the presale tickets were bought by men. Saturday, 9am screening that I went to (definitely the earliest screening I’ve ever been to) was also predominately male. I think there was only around 30 people watching the film with me, and only 4 of them were female (me included). The audience was also very adult-centric – there were only 3 or 4 kids in the cinema.

I don’t really know what to make out of this. I refuse to believe that women don’t like comic book movies. Moreover, I cannot believe that children are not interested in a film like this one.

Also, before the movie, they showed The Lego Batman teaser – it was very appropriate and extremely funny (definitely a lot funnier than the film that followed).

Story: Writing, Tone, and Plotlines

BvS’s script was written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Terrio is best known for writing the screenplay for 2012’s Argo, while Goyer has written all the Blade movies, all of Nolan’s Batman films and Man of Steel. With such an accomplished duo, it’s quite strange to see that Batman v Superman did not turn out that great, when it comes to story. Let’s go over all the different story and plot points (the good, the average and the bad) one by one:

  • To begin with, BvS was a more Batman-centric movie and that’s perfectly understandable – they needed to establish him as a character. The opening of the film nicely dealt with Bruce’s backstory – the death of his parents and his obsession/fear of bats.
  • – The film had a lot of dream sequences and it was extremely hard to understand, which scenes were set in reality and which ones – only in the minds of the characters (I still don’t know who was the person in Bruce’s dream that told Batman that Lois Lane is the key – I read that it was probably the Flash, travelling back in time. The other dream sequence (Nightmare one) was also an Easter Egg for Darkside (maybe)). Anyway, the decision to blend the reality and the dreams together might have been a creative choice, however, it made the narrative unclear and hard to understand/follow.
  • – The film was more than 2 hours long but all the characters lacked development – I wanted to spend more time with all of them and wasn’t satisfied with a few scenes that I’ve got.
  • – However, there were characters that we spent way too much time with and the pay-off, concerning these characters, was not that great. Those senate hearings and Lex Luthor’s and Senator Finch’s scenes seemed to last forever and didn’t really accomplish much.
  • – Basically, the movie had way too many plotlines and was jumping around way too much. In short, there was at least 5 great movies inside this 1 (average) film. The first two parts of the picture also lacked action and the whole set-up for the final act was generally a bit boring, although it had a few exciting moments.
  • The mother-son relationship was really important in this film and it was actually nice to see this particular family relationship explored on screen. Movies usually tend to focus on father-son or father-daughter relationships. I also enjoyed the clever idea to use both Clark Kent’s mother’s and Bruce Wayne’s mother’s name – Martha – as a linguistic plot-device that not only united them but helped to show their humanity.
  • -/+ While I enjoyed seeing Batman and Superman united in battle, I think that they became ‘friends’ too quickly. It would have been more believable to see them calling each other ‘partners’ or something like that.
  • – Speaking about the believability – BvS (like all others DCCU films) really want to be grounded in reality, that’s why they are so dark and gritty. However, I do believe that real life also has lighter moments. Reality doesn’t automatically mean darkness and depression. Sophisticated and serious superhero films can be at least slightly funny as well (I’m not saying they all have to be comedies like Deadpool). I wish that we would have gotten at least a few more lively/amusing-ish moments to balance out the darkness – the only scenes that had a lighter tone were the romantic ones and I had a lot of problems with them separately.
  • Also, while the first two acts of the film were somewhat realistic and very dark, the final act of the film left the reality behind. And you know what? THAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE FILM. The more over-the-top and comic book-y it became, the better the film was. That last act improved my opinion on the whole film and definitely increased the rating.
  • +/- More on the final act: Doomsday’s birth and evolution were cool scenes to look at, but felt a bit rushed. Also, the portrayal of the government forces was very one-sided aka negative.
  • – The lighter aka romantic scenes involved Clark Kent and Lois Lane. While the scenes were cute to look at, they did feel out of place. Also, Lois Lane was such a damsel in distress – she was incapable of doing anything by herself and that annoyed me quite a lot.
  • +/- The ending of the film was quite a brave choice on the filmmakers part. However, since the audiences are quite familiar with the ideas of resurrection not only in comic book films but in movies in general, it was quite hard to feel really emotional about the death of Superman. As soon as he died on screen, my mind started racing on how he will be brought back to life. And even before we got that slight teaser (just before the film cut to black), we all knew that he is coming back. So, basically, it was really hard to think that Superman’s death will stick and that it will have any real consequences.
  • I enjoyed the fact that the characters’ alter-egos were as important as their superhero identities. This idea was nicely portrayed in the double funeral of Clark Kent.
  • + BvS also gave us more than a few very on-the-nose teasers for all the other Justice League members as well as the Justice League itself. We saw: the Flash, stopping the store from being robbed, Aquaman, attacking or threatening someone, and Cyborg, just in the process of creation.
  • Lastly, I might be nitpicking, but it seemed that this time they destroyed more stuff aka two cities – both Gotham and Metropolis. The damage that Man of Steel has done now seems minuscule.

Visuals: Directing, Action, and the Costumes

Zack Snyder did a very nice job directing the action scenes. I only wish that we would not have needed to wait for the said action scenes for more than 1.5h. The picture’s color scheme was also very Snydery – dark and shadowy (unnecessarily grim, like the story). The action scenes that we got in the 3rd act of the film were definitely enjoyable,so let’s discuss them a bit more:

  • The titular fight between Batman and Superman was really cool: the Batman’s protective costume was nice, while the usage of the Krypton – a clever solution. I also loved how Superman just slightly pushed Batman with one hand and Bruce went flying. The only thing that I didn’t like about that fight is the fact that Lois Lane just had to appear out of nowhere in the end.
  • The DC’s trio vs. Doomsday was also an exciting battle. This one was very comic-book-y, thus, very unbelievable, thus – the best part of the film. I loved Superman and Doomsday, flying in space, I loved Batman, trying to come up with a solution (because he knew that he can’t fist-fight the devil), and Wonder Woman, just charging into battle.

Costumes and Props

The characters’ costumes are of course very iconic and there is really no point in talking about them in detail, since, they have been revealed long before the movie was released. However, I do want to mention a few things about them:

  1. I loved Batman’s eyes in all of his costumes. I loved how bold his real eyes looked in his normal costume and how threatening were the light-up eyes in his armor.
  2. Superman’s cape game was strong. He looked amazing while flying or just floating in the air.
  3. Lastly, Wonder Woman’s light-up lasso was super cool – it looked amazing on screen.

Music

The film’s soundtrack was created by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL. Junkie XL has previously worked on music for Man of Steel and a bunch of other films (Mad Max: Fury Road, Black Mass, Point Break and Deadpool). Zimmer needs no introduction – he is the king of movie soundtracks in Hollywood (Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Nolan’s Batman films, Pirates of the Carribean franchise, Inception, Interstellar, 12 Years a Slave, Man of Steel and a plethora of other movies have been scored by him).

Acting

  • Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Affleck was really good in both the action scenes and the dramatic ones. He probably is the most accomplished actor of this cast, so it is no surprise that his performance was the best one. 2003’s Daredevil should just be wiped out of his resume. We will see Affleck in a cameo role in Suicide Squad, but if you want to watch a non-comic book movie, starring Affleck, I highly suggest both Argo and Gone Girl.
  • Henry Cavill as Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman. I did enjoy Cavill’s performance but his facial expressions were a bit one-note. He was amazing in the action sequences, though. Last year, we saw Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Currently, he is working on a war drama Sand Castle.
  • Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Adams was good in the role and it’s not really her fault that the character of Lois was written in the way it was. Basically, I felt that her character was out of place during the majority of the film. I would have liked to see more of her actual journalist side, maybe in scenes opposite Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White – the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet. As an actress, Adams has had quite a long and rewarding career. I especially liked her newer films – American Hustle and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth. My favorite lines of dialogue were spoken by Irons. I really liked his portrayal of Alfred as more of a partner, less like a servant. Also, I recently saw Irons in High-Rise and I also want to watch his other 2016 film – Race.
  • Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman was my favorite character in the film. Gadot was amazing in the role. She shined in the action sequences and I only wish that she would have had more lines because, for the majority of the film, she just reacted to the events that were happening around her. I can’t wait for her own stand-alone film, coming out next year!
  • Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (?) – I forgot to talk about Eisenberg being cast as Lex Luthor in the preview but that was because I deliberately wanted to forget this development. From what I saw in the trailer, Eisenberg  did not play the true Lex Luthor – at least not the one that I grew up watching in the cartoons. There was also this rumor floating online that Eisenberg was playing Luthor Jr. but that just seemed like a cheap explanation. Also, Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor Jr. haircut reminded me way too much of the look that his American Ultra character had and it’s safe to say – I did not enjoy that stupid stoner action comedy. Now, having watched the film, I still have mixed feelings about Eisenberg in this role. I enjoyed the fact that he played very modern, young and hip entrepreneur. However, at the same time, my mind was screaming: ‘This is not Lex Luthor, neither Jr. nor Sr.’. His voice was also a bit squeaky throughout the film, so that did not make him seem as a threatening and serious villain. Nevertheless, I liked both his look and the way he acted at the end of the film, in the cell (he has finally lost that stupid hairstyle). So, maybe BvS was just an origin story for the true Lex Luthor? We will probably find that out in the Justice League films.

Lastly, the movie didn’t have a post-credits or end-credits scene, so there is really no point in waiting through more than 5 minutes of credits.

In the end, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a good film that could have been so much better. It unnecessarily wanted to be real and grim. The first two acts were messy and had too many plotlines, while the third act embraced the comic bookiness of the characters and made the ending of the movie – the best part of it. The acting was really good, Gal Gadot’s and Ben Affleck’s performances were the best. I went into this movie really wanting to like it and, to be truthful, was kinda let down. I am excited to see the standalone films of the characters, but I don’t think that they should rush with the Justice League movies, like they are doing right now. Maybe WB will prove me wrong next year.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer

08d16d4567f303c46f16a66041eca2f620352f4b