*NEW* ARRIVAL REVIEW *NEW*

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The next Interstellar. Brilliant . . . if you liked that movie.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. You can see where I’m heading with this.

A linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The endless Twitter trends, the crazy hype train. I was actually excited to see what the man who brought us Prisoners could deliver.

I’m not going to lie. By the time the credits rolled, I was left feeling a little disappointed.

An emotionally charged opening sequence (that rivalled Up) plucked on the heartstrings as we followed Louise’s (Adams – Nocturnal Animals) relationship with her daughter over the blossoming years. Right up to her swift and tragic illness.

Bleak, heartbreaking and we hadn’t even got to the aliens yet. The pace was left to simmer away and I was happy to allow the bubbling tension and theorising develop as Louise was recruited by Weber (Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland) after 12 strange objects descended from the sky.

Adams was superb and delivered a sterling turn. She really carried the film for me.

I wish more was made out of the supporting cast. Whitaker disappeared into the background far too much and Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) was completely wasted in his role as the shady Agent Halpern. Just another generic government agent.

The only other actor to make a memorable impression was Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). His quips and chemistry with Adams was a much needed presence as the pair worked together to assess whether our new visitors were friend or foe.

I was actually quite impressed by how writers Eric Heisserer and Ted Chiang thought up such a situation. It was almost believable in a way if a superior race were to suddenly appear and try to communicate in an indecipherable and unknown language.

The special effects and CGI on the strange tentacly guests were fantastic. The motion capture methods to create their movements was impressive. They reminded me a little of the jellyfish things from Monsters.

The cryptography and puzzle solving as Louise and co. tried to form a dialogue was intriguing enough BUT by the 60 minute marker, I could feel my patience wading. My interest lost. I didn’t even mind that we hadn’t received any answers or real questions to ask the sinister looking squid things.

BUT the pace really did drag and it was like pulling teeth out to get anywhere. The constant flashbacks to Louise’s daughter and bizarre dream sequences (at first haunting and hypnotic) soon irritated and numbed me into a mini-coma.

Thankfully as the growing tension and civil unrest across the world forced the UN to make a (predictable) decision, I was soon pulled back in.

The paranoia and suspense finally going somewhere with the military desperate to scratch those itchy trigger fingers.

The rising insurgence among the ranks. The hidden agendas from the international compatriots. The world in arrears. If anything, this was all too realistic with China and Russia refusing to share information and desperate to cut ties and eradicate this unknown presence.

All spurned on from one word (Finally deciphered) as “WEAPON”. A reference? A threat? A simple misinterpretation from the linguistic team?

The final 20 minutes was frantic, thrilling and . . . unexpected BUT rewarding?

I won’t say too much about the ending. BUT I will admit that I’m NOT the biggest sci-fi fan. Blade Runner, Alien, Twelve Monkeys, Looper; sign me up. Anything else . . . meh. Once I heard the phrase, “non-linear time difference”, the wind had been knocked out of my sails.

Like Interstellar, Arrival delivered a cleverly woven ending with time paradoxes and hidden meanings galore.

I was afraid that I missed something. I checked the forums and discussed theories and realised I had it sussed the first time. BUT for all the hype and twists and turns, it just didn’t grab me. I wasn’t caught up in it as much as I hoped.

It was good BUT . . . a defining science fiction film? 5/5? Film of the year? I don’t think I’ll remember this by next month.

Maybe it was a case of hype hindering rather than helping. I felt the same for Sicario. Wondering if people had never seen a movie about the underbelly of the Mexican border before.

If Adams wasn’t at the helm, I don’t think my interest would have been grabbed at all. I felt for her character, shared in her grief and frustration as the ever-impending deadline pressed on.

I didn’t hate it. There were genuine moments of suspense and tension. I don’t know how Bradford Young’s grainy cinematography could make a scene look so bleak and beautiful at the same time.

Johann Johannsson’s musical score was sublime. It was perfectly composed and really heightened the mood and emotion of the scenes. Especially in the closing moments.

A clever, well acted, if muddled and drawn out affair for me. It certainly left for food for thought BUT one to remember?

I’ll leave that to you.

3/5

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*NEW* SICARIO REVIEW *NEW*

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Two stand out performances redeem an overhyped and underwhelming thriller.

An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

After a gripping and brutal opening sequence involving a botched raid, the film seemed to meander along. Thankfully, Blunt was superb and really carried the film as she delved into the murky underbelly of Juarez.

The first hour was far too slow for my liking. BUT I was still intrigued to see where it was going. The cryptic conversations and stone walled pallor of Josh Brolin created an air of mystery and suspense. BUT I needed more. It didn’t help that a good portion of what was happening was very disjointed and confusing.

Luckily the introduction of Del Toro’s Alejandro spiced things up. He was brilliant. BUT after a while, Johann Johannson’s brooding soundtrack and Del Toro’s blank staring soon got on my nerves. I constantly questioned his motives and general relevance, to be honest.

Blunt’s frustration personified mine perfectly. Del Toro’s warning to her was a nice little indication of things to come. “Nothing will make sense to your American ears and you will doubt everything we do”. So I kept my griping to a minimum. Waiting for answers or a big twist to redeem this surprisingly patchy affair.

The sweeping shots of a downtrodden Juarez were a sight to see. Captured perfectly with Roger Deakins’ cinematography. A gritty underworld. The rifle fire riddling across the night sky like fireworks was a nice touch.

It was great to see Daniel Kaluuya from Psychoville in this. He delivered an impeccable accent and a sterling supporting turn. An impressive transition for the BBC Three star. I was also happy to see Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice finally getting a movie role. Shame, it was such a weak one.

Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) was completely wasted in his role. His character felt unnecessary and nothing more than a catalyst to spark some much needed action.

After all the slow burning build up, cryptic mumbling and waiting, I expected this to go out with a bang. It delivered a finale of sorts. The closing act was tense, atmospheric and nail biting. The answers finally revealed as we unearthed Alejandro’s true agenda.

The only problem was that after all the mystery, I really hoped it wasn’t going to be so predictable. The twist. Well, if you could it call it that. I saw it coming a mile away. Maybe I’ve seen too many thrillers of this genre to be surprised. For all the confusion, I was hoping that there would be more to unveil. BUT alas, it was not to be.

What didn’t help was that as Del Toro took the centre stage, it was at the expense of Blunt’s character who was pushed into the background. She was far too passive and really didn’t know what was going. It was disappointing that someone we had followed for two hours wasn’t really in the final moments.

If not for a tense stand off with Del Toro, her character would have gone out with a whimper. Which sums up my impression of the film.

At its best, tense, nail-biting and suspenseful. At its worst, patchy, overlong and dull. From the director of Prisoners? Thriller of the year? I expected so much more.

3/5

12 YEARS A SLAVE REVIEW

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Harrowing, haunting, brutal, if a little overhyped. This is still one for your consideration.

It’s tough to commend the subject matter, but one can applaud it’s execution. Steve McQueen brings to life a visceral telling of an innocent man’s slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a rightly deserved Oscar nominated performance as the mesmerizing Solomon Northup.

12 Years follows Northup in Saratoga, New York, in 1841. It flashes back and forth from a slow burning opening sequence of Northup’s slavery to him being a free family man. The flashbacks reveal quite early that gifted violinist Northup is lured to Washington, D. C. by two entertainers, promising work. But after a night of carousing, Northup wakes up in chains and is sold into a life of slavery.

As the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t believe this account happened. McQueen has never been one to hold back the punches or shy away from taboo subjects such as hunger strikes (Hunger) and sex addiction (Shame). 12 Years makes no exception. Never afraid to keep the camera fixated on the action, lingering, building tension and horror, providing some of the most memorable, if hard hitting, scenes.

Performance wise, this film is exceptional with a plethora of talent and how Ejiofor could still stand out shows how good his performance really was. I was also surprised by Paul Dano’s turn as the conniving slave master. Intentionally going out of his way to aggravate Solomon. He continues to excel ever since Little Miss Sunshine. Appearing in numerous Oscar nominated features (There Will Be Blood and Prisoners). Personally, I felt he deserved a Best Supporting nod.

Benedict Cumberbatch nailed the Southern accent as kind hearted slave trader Ford, a man forced by the times to own slaves but desperately trying to give them the best that he can. Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt delivered in their surprisingly small roles.

A good portion of the plaudits should be awarded to McQueen regular, Michael Fassbender. He was brilliant as the religious zealot Edwin Epps. He nailed the accent and stole every scene with his menacing presence. Sarah Poulsen was great as the ice cold Mistress Epps. I’ve been a fan of her for some time. Ever since her turn in American Horror Story: Asylum and Coven.

BUT Ejiofor, an underrated actor in my eyes, was finally given the platform and he excelled with aplomb. You really cared for the man and his breakdown in the closing moments was endearing and brilliantly acted.

However, at the same time, 12 Years A Slave is hardly perfect. Personally I couldn’t help but feel that Oscar hype raised too many expectations. McQueen’s greatest strength was also his weakness. The lingering shots, though haunting and engaging; at times were drawn out which heavily slackened the pace and tension of the piece.  

Despite certain scenes delivering uncomfortable viewing, it wasn’t as controversial or as brutal as the hype suggested. For those who have seen Roots, this particular story will seem all too familiar. 

And as the closing minutes drew, Fassbender’s Epps wasn’t actually as demented as he first presented himself. BUT this is still a well acted, brilliantly shot and visceral film that is worth a watch

3.5/5