Arrival: when aliens make contact in twelve different countries the race is on to find out why they are here. The main themes and purpose of the movie is revealed very slowly, in tiny pieces that don’t slot together at all until the very end, where – if you’re still paying attention – it should hit you like a ton of bricks. Because of this, it’s the type of film that I imagine would be more rewarding on the second viewing, knowing how it plays out and fits together from the start. There’s a lot of nice details & observations about language; and Villeneuve’s recurring themes of repetition, circularity, loops, and significant numbers (12!!). Other than the director, as mentioned everywhere else Amy Adams puts in a great shift; although I’m not so sure she’ll be taking home an Oscar as there’s a lot of CGI reaction shots, and not many big acting ‘moments’. With the critical praise, box-office hype, and an alien–invasion trailer I felt that arrival suffers from the ‘Sicario Effect’ in that it’s smarter, lower key, and more nuanced than the film it’s been sold as; with absolutely massive ideas and questions thrown at the audience, played though one character’s story and experience. Is Arrival intelligent? Yes. Interesting? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Compelling? … Somewhat. A ‘great’ film? I don’t think so. For me it feels like Villeneuve spends too much time setting up his ideas instead of telling a grand story.
Sunshine Cleaning: to ensure her son can get a good schooling, a struggling mum enters the lucrative, but stomach-turning, crime-scene cleanup business. The best part of this is that it’s fairly funny and upbeat considering the grim subject matter; the characters aid this most, other than the most annoying kid in history – If that was my spawn I’d have beaten him into shape by that age. Emily blunt looks great as an angsty goth, nails the accent and steals the show for me. Amy Adams was solid too – but was clearly during her ‘must have a scene in my underwear’ phase. Chloe form 24 once again plays her bread and butter TOTAL WEIRDO role – needs to diversify! The direction and story are both simple and effective, although it goes a little off-chorus in the final third, but enough groundwork was put in at the start to give this a nice indie sleeper-hit feel to it. Sunshine Cleaning cleverly walks the line between funny and serious, and successfully avoids become farcical or gloomy.
The Master: a veteran returns home and is eventually taken under the wing of a charismatic charlatan. To get the ‘acting’ chat out of the way, Joaquin Phoenix turns in a career-defining performance of a multi-layered borderline perverted post-war wayward career alcoholic who is – we’re led to believe – physically and mentally disabled – it’s an acting accomplishment of the highest order. PSH is good, but – and I know it’s ridiculous to say – you always expect big shouty performances like this from him now. The rest of the cast are top dollar, but only appear for minutes at a time. The film itself is rather vague; part psychology, part character study, part love story, part drama, part coming-of-age, part religious historical… it feels very unplanned and ill-though out. It borrows some major themes similarities from There Will Be Blood, and to a lesser extent harks back to Magnolia, and the similarities between “The Cause” and Scientology’s beginnings, and leader, are about as subtle as a brick to the face – it was almost silly to not name it. The Master is a strange one: the subject matter’s interesting, the acting’s top-drawer, it’s beautifully shot (so much so that plenty scenes resemble ‘art’ more than ‘cinema’) … but the way in which it’s edited, and the often bizarre content of many scenes’ make it infuriatingly alienating. By the end of this 140 minute endurance test, I was long disinterested. It’s a shame that some magnificent performances are upstaged and drowned out by such irreverent cinematic and narrative wankery (for the second time in two weeks!).
The Fighter: Hollywood biopic about two half-brother boxers as they each try to make it to the professional level. You can’t mention The Fighter without focusing on the Award-busting cast: Wahlberg’s humble performance is somewhat overlooked with all the ‘big acting’ around him, but he’s at the very top of his game here; Bale and Leo trump the ‘crazy good’ pile with larger than life characters; and if you need a respectable actress that gets down to her knickers there can only be… Amy Adams, duh! It’s technically sweet, the sound is great for a boxing movie and the TV effects on the 1990s fights make it more believable and documentary-esque. What gets you most is the story, and the fact that it’s real; there’s more drama outside the ring and with a cast of explosive, rounded, characters like this my only complaint is that, if anything, there are too many of them – biggest family ever! Because of the territory, there’s definitely an element of running through the sports movie checklist, (“right, that box is ticked, next!”) after every fight, argument or pivotal scene. Although it tugs at the heart-strings with shameless precision through the family story, and despite being over-dramatic at times, The Fighter totally did it for me. Cracking sport’s / boxing film.
Doubt: Catholic school drama centered around a Priest & Sister. Seymour–Hoffman plays the loose, cool, charismatic & liberal priest whose quest to modernise the school’s morals pits him against Meryl Streep – a fear-mongering strict traditionalist. Amy Adams is stuck in the middle. Essentially the entire film is based on the classic ‘old’ against ‘new’ face off, and nothing much else. The first 75 minutes are painfully slow then the lid gets blown off for around 10 minutes as the drama reaches meter-breaking levels… unfortunately it instantly chills after that, and remains calm ’til the end. Most of the direction was plain and simple, however there were a few skewed and angled shots that seemed very out of place, for reasons that were beyond me. The three aforementioned performances were absolutely stellar, unfortunately the film itself just couldn’t match it. 100% slow-burning, catholic-based feud – although my other half loved it