This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with the weight of its themes. It may be fiction, but the film's exploration of the power of language raises fascinating ideas about the human mind. It's also produced to an extremely high standard, with striking effects and sumptuous cinematography and editing. And as played by Amy Adams, the movie also carries a surprising emotional kick.
Adams plays linguistics expert Louise, who is asked by the American government to help decode the language of aliens who occupy gigantic monolithic ships that appear suddenly, floating over various locations around the globe. So she heads to the American site in Montana and begins working with scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) under the watchful eye of Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker). And of course she's taken aback by these seven-legged creatures who communicate with odd tones and swirling symbols. When coordinated efforts with other teams around the world begin to descend into mistrust, everyone stops sharing their data, and the military leaders decide to take matters into their own hands and destroy the ships. But Louise begins to believe she is onto something important, and she tenaciously pursues a course of action that terrifies everyone, including her.
Expertly directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario), the film never lapses into sensationalistic action, and it's even more gripping as a result. Several scenes generate goosebumps for their inventive visual flourishes, including the surprising gravitational twists and the face-to-face interaction with two freaky but oddly endearing aliens Louise and Ian name Abbott and Costello. Special effects are seamless, grounding everything that happens as something eerily believable. But the emphasis is on the emotional drama surging within Louise, and the huge implications it has for the entire world.
Continue reading: Arrival Review
Right from the start, filmmaker Jason Zada begins filling scenes in this horror movie with insinuating elements involving eerie noises, deep shadows and sudden jolts. And it succeeds in freaking the audience out entertainingly. Then Zada seems to get tired of sustaining the psychological terror, letting the final act become swamped by a flood of gimmicky cliches.
The story centres on Sara (Natalie Dormer), a young woman suffering from unnerving nightmares about her identical twin Jess (also Dormer), who was last seen entering Japan's notorious Aokigahara Forest, the "sea of trees" where people traditionally go to commit suicide. So Sara leaves her husband (Eoin Macken) at home in America and heads to the foot of Mt Fuji to get some answers, ignoring warnings about angry spirits and impending doom. There she meets friendly journalist Aidan (Taylor Kinney), who wants to tag along and write a story about her. But once they enter the forest, their phones and compasses stop working, then even creepier things start happening in the gloomy darkness.
The director gleefully piles on suggestive imagery, hinting at all kinds of things that might be going on here. Sara and Jess are like opposite sides of a coin: blonde and sensible versus brunette and free-spirited. And they have a tragic back-story that reveals itself in a series of dreamy flashbacks. Cleverly, their childhood snapshots make them resemble the sinister twins from The Shining. So Sara's continuous premonitions add layers of uncertainty, especially as she indulges in illicit flirtation with the handsome Aidan. Dormer is solid in the central role, nicely balancing Sara's scepticism with a haunting sense of dread. And Kinney is terrific as the helpful stranger who seems too nice to be trusted. Meanwhile, the forest itself makes the entire film feel like a fairy tale that's threatening to turn seriously nasty at any moment.
Continue reading: The Forest Review
While this atmospheric Australian Outback thriller has plenty of edgy action, it's also meandering and arty, refusing to fill in the details until filmmaker David Michod is good and ready. This makes it feel rather slow and uneven, although it's at least consistently fascinating. And as a story of tenacity and survival, it's also a gripping drama.
The story is set 10 years after "the collapse", so there's little sense of law and order in the Outback. When his car is stolen by three outlaws (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo and David Field), the strong-silent Eric (Guy Pearce) goes in pursuit. Along the way, he picks up the injured Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thugs, who knows where they're headed. As they hit the road, Eric and Rey have a series of encounters with people who are alternatively helpful and menacing, from an inquisitive brothel madam (Gillian Jones) to a nervous doctor (Susan Prior) to an in-over-his-head soldier (Anthony Hayes). There are also plenty of marauding thieves and trigger-happy commandoes who don't hesitate before blowing away anyone who looks odd. But as Eric and Rey begin to bond, they still find it impossible to trust each other.
While the overarching plot is fairly simple, the film plays out in a series of set-pieces as Eric responds a variety of tense situations. The big question hovering above everything is of course why he's so determined to get his car back (the odd answer comes at the very end). Michod's style of filmmaking is more interested in provoking thought than fully satisfying the audience, so scenes are packed with inconclusive twists and turns, vaguely undefined characters and situations, and elements that clearly have some sort of meaning but feel rather impenetrable. Pearce's performance fits this style perfectly; Eric is a man who says very little, letting a steely glare convey more than any number of words would. In jarring contrast, Pattinson's Rey is a hyperactive mess, a simple-minded guy who never stops moving and talking.
Continue reading: The Rover Review
In Vienna, British businessman Michael (Law) has arranged to meet Slovakian prostitute Blanka (Siposova) on her first night on the job. But the situation shifts, and Michael ends up thinking about his wife (Weisz) in London.
Meanwhile, she's having a fling with a Brazilian (Cazarre) whose girlfriend (Flor) is fed up with his infidelity. On her flight home, she meets a troubled British man (Hopkins) and a recovering sex-offender (Foster). Meanwhile, an Algerian dentist (Debbouze) in Paris is in love with his Russian employee (Drukarova), whose husband (Vdovichenkov) works for a hotheaded gangster (Ivanir).
Continue reading: 360 Review
After attempting to briefly educate us about the perils of driving, The Hitcher (a remake of the 1986 cable standby) then jumps straight into the action. A guy (Zachary Knighton) waits impatiently for his girlfriend outside her dorm with a 1970 Oldsmobile 442. As he sits by his muscle car and she (Sophia Bush) comes out with nothing but pajamas and a small backpack on, The Hitcher feels like it should turn into a Penthouse story at any moment. They hop in the car, and before we even get their names we get to see Bush changing in the car and going on the road.
Continue reading: The Hitcher Review
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