Arrival – Denis Villeneuve

Arrival starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Paramount Pictures

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Incendies) has done something extraordinary. Arrival is what had been missing from the 2016 movie year and exactly what was needed, a truly unique and enormously entertaining film. Much more than the average science fiction film, Arrival takes alien encounters very seriously. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play the roles of acclaimed linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly, who are called upon by the U.S. Army to provide input on the alien visitors and their gravity-defying ship. They are tasked to find out why they came and what they want. As expected, it can be very difficult to communicate with a being that doesn’t speak or think in terms humans can understand, so they have a long and complicated road ahead if them. It’s both intriguing and entertaining to watch the story unfold.

From the get-go, Arrival is unsettling, mostly due to Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s haunting score (listen here). A generally somber mood is crafted right at the beginning with a cryptic monologue by Adams and a series of flashbacks. Most of the movie is dark and shadowy with some exceptional cinematography and sleek production design, both of which Arrival received Oscar nominations for. The acting is superb, with a striking performance by Adams, which was sadly ignored by the Academy.

Much like Villeneuve’s other films, every scene and conversation has a purpose; no screen time is wasted on cheap science fiction thrills like scary aliens or battle sequences. Arrival is as sophisticated as it is unique. There is some action and some intense moments, but overall it would almost classify as a science fiction drama. If you are in the mood for something light à la Independence Day: Resurgence , you will be very disappointed. The characters are in a race against time to solve a puzzle – in this case an alien language – where the consequences of getting it wrong could mean war.

Just shy of 120 minutes, Arrival is a great length and does not take an hour to end once things ramp up (looking at you, Return of the King). It takes you on a complex journey and holds back some key information for a big reveal that will leave you breathless and perhaps even choking back some tears. Some will even think that the movie is over too soon, that there could have been more – more explanations or more conclusions – but in the end, Arrival is as close to perfect as a film can get. Nothing is as it seems, and you’ll probably re-watch it as soon as you can to fully appreciate Villeneuve’s mastery.

The film was released in November 2016 and grossed just short of $200M worldwide.

Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It ended up walking away with one win for sound editing.

Watch the official trailer here:

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Ex Machina – Alex Garland

Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander

Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander

Since the movie’s limited releases in January and April, critics and regular movie-goers alike have been showering it with praise and calling it one of the best science fiction films in years. It’s smart, thrilling, and has a continuous dark undertone that makes you feel like there’s something wrong, but you just don’t know what. Unlike a lot of science fiction movies, you aren’t quite sure how it’s going to end, but with Ex Machina, you know it probably won’t be good.

Ex Machina is written and directed by Alex Garland, a talented British author (The Beach, which adapted for the screen in 2000), screenwriter (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go), and now Director. His filmography will give a good indication of the “tone” of film one can expect from his new feature, he doesn’t stray too far from the dark and troubled.

Not everyone will be a fan of the pace of this film; some people may find it a little too slow and the shots a little too long, others will find the slow build up intriguing. Ex Machina is about a young, brilliant coder who wins a contest that will take him far into the wilderness to a compound owned by the CEO of his company. At this secluded, high-security resort is a new project the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has been working on – artificial intelligence. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), the coder, has been tasked with assessing and testing the machine’s capabilities over the course of a week and finally determining if he has indeed succeeded in mastering artificial intelligence.

The score is eerie and certainly compliments the solitude and the gravity of the situation. To have created a machine that looks, feels, acts, and processes information and emotions like a human being is certainly ground-breaking on a science level, but dangerous on a moral and spiritual level. The film covers a lot of ground and oddly enough everything seems quite believable and well thought through.

The machine/robot, Ava, is played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina, The Fifth Estate), who will certainly be getting more roles after the recognition she’s been getting lately. She is completely convincing as the sweet and innocent A.I. who just wants to be treated as a person and craves real human interaction. Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, Anna Karenina, Unbroken) is at the centre of the film and goes through a large range of emotions (awe, intrigue, mistrust, and finally madness) with such conviction that you just know he’s going to be around for a long, long time. These two actors, along with Oscar Isaac playing the binge-drinking, secretive mastermind behind it all who you just can’t seem to completely trust, anchor the movie in such a way that they keep you engaged and never really let go. It’s a thought-provoking slow burner and, as previously stated, some people may not have the attention span for it and it may be just a little too “messed up” for others; it is science fiction, after all.

Ex Machina only made about $36M at the box office worldwide and is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Edge of Tomorrow – Doug Liman

Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt

It was a summer filled with crowd pleasing blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Transformers 4 but if you didn’t get a chance to see Edge of Tomorrow in theatres, then be sure to look for it on DVD/Blu-Ray October 7. In a spring/summer filled with sequels, it was one of the more unique movies to hit theatres and, given its company, it didn’t get as much credit as it should have.

It was like Groundhog Day on steroids, and a lot less annoying. Tom Cruise plays “Major William Cage” who unexpectedly gets caught in the middle of a seemingly unwinnable war against robotic aliens and at the same time finds himself in a continuous time-loop where he cannot stay dead. When he does die, which is inevitable in this alien war, he wakes up a moment later at the beginning of the first day where he must relive all of the same moments over again. It was refreshing to see him in a role where he starts off as a bit of a coward who doesn’t know what he’s doing and grows into the macho killing machine we’re so used to. He’s the opposite of a hero when he begins his journey to the front lines where the battle resembles the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, except with terrifying alien killing machines and a lot more fire power. Emily Blunt was surprisingly a great fit for the female lead, a bad-ass war hero with a take-no-shit attitude.

It’s a lot of fun to watch Cage die over and over again and attempt to figure out different ways to make it through the day without getting himself killed, and of course save mankind in the process. Edge of Tomorrow is an extremely fast-paced movie with enough complexity and witty dialogue that makes one wonder how it was all crammed into 113 minutes, an ideal length for an edge-of-your-seat sci-fi action movie (Michael Bay, please take note).

Tom Cruise, as always, has a lot of impressive stunts and actually comes across as funny as the movie plays on. As he quickly becomes a seasoned war veteran through his live, die, repeat sequence, we see him slowly gain the respect of Rita (Emily Blunt) and their relationship, mostly based on tolerance and sarcasm, is pretty amusing to watch. There is some chemistry there, but thankfully that’s not what the movie is focused on.

All in all, it is a unique, fun, and action-packed movie that most people should enjoy. The plot is fairly complex but shouldn’t be too hard to follow as you gain more and more knowledge of the situation as the movie progresses. Do yourself a favour and don’t focus on the loopholes (there are bound to be a few in a story like this) – just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.