Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Arrival

Arrival is the film we need right now. It’s a movie about love. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about understanding each other; helping and guiding. Arrival is a film that dares you to appreciate what you have, even if you know you won’t have it forever.

The beings in Arrival appear quickly. That’s one thing I love about director Denis Villeneuve’s films: he wastes no time getting to the heart of it. Long winded backstories are often absent, as are pages of expository dialogue. You have to pay attention, infer. Details matter. The school shooting in Polytechnique happens promptly, then repeats several times from various points of view. The mother in Incendies becomes comatose right away, and we spend the rest of the film trying to figure out why. The girls are kidnapped early in Prisoners, and the behind-the-wall carnage in Sicario reveals itself in the opening scene.

Arrival is no different. As the film begins, we’re shown a few years in the life of Louise Banks (Amy Adams). The montage is quick and expertly paced, not dissimilar to the way Terrence Malick cuts sequences of his films. I won’t reveal what we learn about Louise in this introductory segment, but it is indeed enough to appreciate her plight. Shortly after, the aliens arrive. They arrive at 12 seemingly random locations across the world, in giant spacecraft that hover mere feet off the ground. Arrival dedicates its narrative to the sole spacecraft in America, which is located in Montana.
Louise is a renowned linguist, and is quickly recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to make and maintain healthy contact with the beings. (How much time did Weber spend vetting Louise’s credentials? How does he know when she’ll be at her office or at home? These questions do not interest Villeneuve. Weber knows because he knows. You infer and accept, and you move on.) In Montana, Louise is joined by Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist who studies life through science. Louise studies it through language and communication. Their differing philosophies create a healthy balance. It’s amazing how much we can accomplish when we actually listen to people who approach things differently than we do.

Communication is made and maintained with the beings, but I’m not interested in revealing how. Arrival is too fine a film to spoil in print. I can describe Bradford Young’s marvelous cinematography (Young knows precisely when to be cold and warm, handheld and still), but you need to see it to fully appreciate it. You can stream Jóhann Jóhannsson’s beautiful score online, but it’s far better when heard as the film flickers before you. Joe Walker has edited some of my favorite contemporary films, including Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave and Sicario, and as is Walker’s style, his editing is a character itself in Arrival, jumping linear narrative to enhance story.
Adams, Renner and Whitaker play their characters as no-nonsense professionals. There’s little exaggerated emotion in the film. Barely (if any) crying or screaming or cheap humor is done here. You don’t find acting like this often in American studio films. The characters in Arrival are people, not caricatures. The truth of the actors’ work, coupled with the impressive technical aspects of the film, help shape Arrival into an experience I’m eager to revisit soon, and often.

We’re trapped in a delicate time. Tensions are high, people are anxious. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t control the decisions of others, I can only control what I do and how I react. But I can also choose to listen. I wish more people were listening right now. The beings in Arrival come to our land uninvited, and show no signs of leaving. Yet, when we listen to them, we understand that they are coming from a place of calm. They’re interested, they want to learn. Louise stresses that if we allow them to know us, we will learn about them in return. But we can’t learn through fear or intimidation. We can’t yell and make noise and drop bombs. We have to listen. By listening, perhaps an understanding can be realized. And, perhaps, once a calm understanding is reached, we can begin to help each other in a mutually beneficial way. But it all starts with a conversation. It all starts with listening. I only wish we were all capable of doing that in real life. A-

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36 comments:

  1. This sentence makes me want to see the film: "The characters in Arrival are people, not caricatures".
    I'll watch it on the biggest screen when arrives near me. Glad to see another positive review! Seems Denis Villeneuve can handle both smaller and bigger productions.

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    1. He can for sure. Makes me very hopeful for his Blade Runner. Honestly, the guy hasn't missed yet to me. Hope you enjoy Arrival!

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  2. OK, I need to see this. I hope to end my movie-theater drought this weekend as it's been several months since I went to a movie theater to see a film.

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    1. That's funny, I've been in a similar drought. Used to go to the movies all the time. Now maybe it's once or twice a month. Funny how that happened. But this is a good one for sure.

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  3. Great review, Alex! I'm still struggling to put my thoughts down into words. This movie was just so good. I spent the whole of last night rethinking every single detail!
    - Allie

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    1. Thanks! It's a tough one to wrap your head around, isn't it? It'll be even better with repeat viewings.

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  4. Great review! After seeing this last night, and loving it, I'm convinced Aliens are going to beam me up any day now!!

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    1. Thanks! And hey... I can't say that would be such a bad thing right now.

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  5. What a beautiful review. We need tolerance and respect to stop discrimination and try to change some values that are arising, even among the younger ones, lately. That’s why I think the message in your review is very powerful, and I can’t wait to watch Arrival with all you’ve said about it. Like the actors, loved Villeneuve’s latest films as I told you before (I still have to watch Incendies); didn’t know Joe Walker was the same person behind Sicario and Shame and Hunger, but that’s another reason to watch it; and I love Jóhann Jóhannsson's music. It's been a great discovery for me. I loved his work in Sicario, and right now I’m watching the series Trapped (quite good so far and I’m close to the ending. It’s a well-made show and I have a thing for nordic noir) and he’s the soundtrack composer too. I'm happy to see he’s doing the soundtrack for the Blade Runner sequel .

    And I’m very curious about Arrival's plot, because I’ve never been a "big" UFO fan, but do you remember I told you I’m translating a book for my friend’s publishing company? Well, it’s Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel! I don't know if you know about him, but he wrote the Mothman prophecies too. It made me smile a little the fact that when I was reading your review I immediately recognized the word “hover” as Keel used it a lot when he describes the UFO sightings. I don’t know if this translation it’s gonna improve my general knowledge of English, but it’s definitely going to improve my knowledge of English ufology terms, haha.

    Oh and I have to reply to your email asap. I’m still looking for the rights words to express all I felt while watching your film, it brought a lot of emotions.

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    1. Eeeek I'm so excited and curious for that email. Thanks so much for taking the time to watch it.

      I'm not really a fan of UFO movies either, so I get where you're coming from. But Arrival is much more than that. I didn't touch on many of the best aspects of the film, in fear of ruining its magic. I really think you'll like it.

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  6. I recently discover your blog through your fantastic post on 25th Hour (which one of my favorite movies) and I have to say, you have some great stuff on here. This review in particular was absolutely fantastic. I haven't seen Arrival yet (the only Villenueve film I've seem is Enemy, although I do want to see more), but after reading this, I really want to. Especially now, when there's so much hatred and contension going on with the election, it would seem as if a movie as reaffirming as this seemingly is would be very welcome.

    Keep up the good work.

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    1. Hey Todd, thanks so much for this nice comment. I'm so happy you like the blog and dug that 25th Hour post. It's one of my favorite movies too - Spike held nothing back in that one.

      Enemy is damn near my favorite Villenueve film. Such a headtrip. I hope you like Arrival!

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  7. Just saw it today, and so far, I'd definitely place it in my Top Three of the year (with Swiss Army Man and Hacksaw Ridge). It's a sci fi film I've been waiting to see, smaller scale, with a less in-your-face save the world plot than most, very realistic, and with a genuinely mind-blowing twist. I agree with you on how timely its release is, and sadly, your final sentence is all too true (I'm not even sure how capable I am, let alone the world at large).

    Moving to a brighter subject, how's Wait doing? I'm dying to see it. Also, some things I've been curious about, what kind of budget were you working with? How big was the cast and crew? Did you work with the unions or outside of them (also, CAN you work outside of them?)

    Finally, Arrival and the aforementioned top films give me hope. I haven't been watching many movies recently, and I'm not sure if it's because of my depression (let's not talk about that), a lack of interesting movies recently, or perhaps both. Which is a shame because 2012-2014 were so strong, with the likes of Under the Skin, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, etc., many of which I'd include in my personal favorites of all time. Well, with people like Villeneuve, I know there's always gonna be something to watch.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I really appreciated Hacksaw Ridge as well. Think what you want about Gibson, but those were some of the most realistic battle scenes since Saving Private Ryan. So well done.

      I certainly see less movies now too, particularly in the theater. I used to see damn near everything, but now I’m much more picky about what I spend my time watching.

      Thanks for saying that about Wait! I’m nearing the end of the (very, very) long process of getting it up on iTunes and Amazon. As for specific questions about it, shoot me an email and we’ll talk!

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    2. I'm still working on some questions about Wait, but you will be receiving an email from me soon.

      Also, I think Mel Gibson's a cinematic genius, regardless of what he's said. Apocalypto, The Passion of the Christ, Hacksaw Ridge, he's a man who tries to put some weight onto his films, and I really respect that.

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    3. Sounds good man. I've always been a fan of Gibson's filmmaking as well. Hacksaw had many strong sequences.

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    4. Hacksaw Ridge almost made me cry. So intense.

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  8. I really loved this movie. I could not agree more that it emphasizes the importance of communication. When we have a grand conflict, we cannot respond with riots, violence, or fear. We have to be rational.

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    1. That's damn right, my friend. That's what the movie was all about to me. More important now than ever.

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  9. Just saw this tonight. I wasn't sure what to expect going in. On the one hand, I haven't seen a Villeneuve film I haven't loved (although I've only seen his previous 3, why are the older ones so dang expensive on DVD). On the other, sci-fi in film is really hit or miss for me, but when it hits, those few that do become favorites. I also saw a couple of people on a forum that I am a part of kind of putting it down as being Nolan-lite. All I knew about the plot was that aliens came and Amy Adams was a linguist.

    I am so glad that this movie exists. It might not be the best movie of the year, but I think it will probably be the best one that non-nerds actually might go see and that the general population knows about. The script was really tight and I thought the actors nailed their parts while also allowing just the right amount of their own personalities to shine through. I really liked the Malick-esque parts, and now the two guys I went to see it with are going to be borrowing some of his films soon! And the editing in this was fantastic, right? It so perfectly jumped in time almost on a whim most of the time, but was able to tell such a cohesive story. I can't believe that some reviewers are saying this is boring?! I also liked how the ending of Enemy is kind of repeated in one of Amy Adams' dream sequences.

    The soundtrack for this was so neat. Some of it was very ambient and organic sounding, but some of it was obviously electronic but each fit the corresponding scene well. The only specific ones I can think of are when we are first arriving at the base camp, and the credits song (which appears in the film too, I just forget where).

    A few minor gripes:
    I thought the subplot to have the bomb planted seemed a little forced and was only there because things needed to move faster.
    I thought the foggy room scene was neat except Amy Adams' hair was like digitally manipulated somehow that just looked too silly to me.
    I thought there was too many news coverage scenes.

    Other than that, loved it. Might go see it again over Thanksgiving break.

    I have been piecing together a sci-fi story that I want to make into a film in a few years. I have been slowly churning it over in my mind for about eight months and just the past month or so started writing an outline (which is up to about 15 pages now). I've never made anything before, so I've been trying to think of ways that I can make an effective sci-fi film without much of a budget.
    So I was hoping if I loved this film, it wouldn't just knock the wind out of my sails and discourage me knowing how much it cost. Which it didn't. It was really the opposite. Just makes me want to do it even more. Another source of inspiration was the soundtrack. While I consider myself an amateur, I have recorded a decent amount of music, and intend to create the music for whatever I end up making.

    And I think that is one of the greatest achievements any work of art can have. That it inspires someone else to create.

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    1. Also, I don't know if you'll be able to see it, but the film Visaranai (The Interrogation) directed by Vetrimaaran is very good. It is a really brutal film, dealing with police violence and systematic corruption.

      It is India's selection for the Academy Awards this year. I got to see a screening of it at Carnegie Melon and there was a Q&A with the director afterwards mediated by one of my film professors. This is the second time I've been able to attend a screening with the director present. It is a really cool experience.

      Lastly, you saw Moonlight, right? If not, see it. It is an important film. (Sorry if you mentioned it on twitter, I've been out of the twittersphere since my iphone broke a few months ago).

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    2. Awesome man, so happy you liked this one. I’m stunned that people find this film boring. Its nonlinear editing was more than enough to keep me engaged.

      So cool that you’re working on a sci-fi story. It’s a hard genre to do on a budget, but it can be done. Shane Carruth’s Primer (made for $7,000) is one of the best sci-fi films made so far this century.

      I’ll definitely check out Visaranai when it comes my way.

      Moonlight… I liked it, but the sugar high wore off a bit. There was a lot of it, upon reflection, that did not make sense to me. Kevin being “forced” to beat up Chiron… I didn’t believe that for a second. Felt very forced. Kevin seemed more than capable of holding his own against that douche bully, so why collapse with the pressure? Also made no sense that adult Chiron could have a wet dream about adult Kevin, without actually knowing what adult Kevin looks like. Those things weren’t deal breakers for me, but in a movie so tightly arranged, it was odd that those scenes weren’t developed better.

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    3. Haha yes! Shane Carruth is a huge inspiration. I always thought it would be fun to make a movie, but once I saw Primer and then it's budget, I thought "wow, I could actually do it." And then Upstream Color, oh my gosh... What a talent. I think both his films get better each time. Cannot wait for The Modern Ocean but still wish he would make A Topiary as well.

      I also thought those same things when seeing Moonlight. Why doesn't Kevin just say no? I thought it was a little contrived for Terrel to just be like, remember the game we played in junior high? And then for Kevin to just go right along with it. I think it would have been plenty affective if Kevin just let Chiron get beaten up by the bullies.

      I suppose you could say that adult Chiron was having a wet dream about young Kevin, but then it gets a little weirder than I think it is intended to.

      No matter though, I think the fact that a film with this subject matter (queerness in the black community, single parenthood from a child's perspective, drug addiction, etc.) was made at all is important. There are obviously other films that broach these topics separately, but tackling them all within the same character was a pretty bold move.

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    4. Oh yes, please don't get me wrong, Moonlight is a very important film, and the fact that it was even made in this market is astounding. I just had a few minor qualms with it. But all told, a great piece of work.

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  10. Nailed it! I too can't wait to go see it again.

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    1. Thanks Liz! I really need to see it again too.

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  11. Haven't had much of an online presence in the last year, but I'm glad to see you're still hard at work, sharing your knowledge and passion for film with us. As for Arrival, I must say I agree that it is a fine film, one done with utmost care by a director who, like you said, has not yet had a major misstep in his career. Even though I wasn't a great fan of some of his past work, he never failed to make interesting pieces. Arrival is, for me, his finest work behind Incendies, a film that I will forever hold close to my heart. The only thing I would highlight about Arrival is that the plot taken as a whole does not quite match the film's ambition and visual craft. It's a tough balance to be able to craft a solid sci-fi script without it crumbling in front of you before you build the foundations to the themes you would like audiences to explore as they watch. Though this does not quite happen in Arrival, the lack of craft in some of the outlying details of the plot were distracting, if only for a moment. I can think, for instance, of the sequence that involves a small contigent of young soldiers who in their fear attempt to destroy the alien ship. If we are to believe and be taken far away from our seats and into an alternate universe where aliens visit us; we can't possibly be bothered with questions like: how do a few young soldiers carry a bomb into the world's most protected asset? How come security is so lax that they can literally kidnap the mission with only a handful of weapons? More importantly, does the scene really add any substance to the film? Very little if I may say so.
    As you rightly point out, these are small details that do little to detract from the overall effect, but maybe enough to make Arrival a very good film that falls just short of greatness.

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    1. Thanks! I really appreciate that. I definitely don't blog or tweet as much as I used to, but it's been nice to keep it going a bit.

      I agree that Arrival falls short of greatness. I agree with a lot of what you said here. A fine film all the same though.

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  12. Spot-on review Alex, great movie with some insanely beautiful shots. I am eagerly waiting for you 'XX things I like about Arrival that no one talks about' Post ;while watching the movie I was doing that myself :) .

    The movie was too good, although some scenes I felt fell right-away into the standard Sci-Fi mold(like the one in chopper when Jeremy Renner says 'Science is the cornerstone of human Civilization not Language' ; but that is just nitpicking because the movie was so great .

    I particularly loved the similarity between the opening and closing shots. I hope another 'Denis Villeneuve movie' comes soon, that guy is amazing.

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    1. Thanks so much!

      I'm glad you liked this one. And I believe we're getting a BIG Villeneuve film very very soon ;-)

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  13. I just got back from watching this and it's by far my favorite movie of the year so far. Denis Villeneuve is quickly become one of my favorite directors working today. After Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now this i can't wait to see what he does with the new Blade Runner movie. I still need to check out some of his older movies as well, but they are hard to find. Especially here in Norway. Anyway, can't wait to go see Arrival again.

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    1. So happy you liked this one so much. I can't wait to see it again too. Both Incendies and Polytechnique are perfect, but fucking brutal movies. Definitely seek them out if you can.

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  14. Fantastic post, Alex, for a truly phenomenal film. I've seen the film three days ago and I just can't wait to rewatch it (something by the way that rarely happens even with films I love). It simply blew me away. A film like this makes for a complete and completely unique cinematic experience, one that can not only restore one's faith in the art of movie-making nowadays but also us humans for being able to create a piece of art that's so heartfelt, profound and deeply human through a story of contact with non-human beings.

    Denis Villeneuve has proved time and again his awe-inspiring abilities as a director and if I'd see a better directed American film this year I'd frankly be surprised. As for the supremely gifted Amy Adams, I wish she'll sweep the entire awards season all the way to 2017's Oscar for Best Actress because her performance here is a consummate work of art. She's never been better and THAT says really a lot. There's no way to overpraise a film or a performance like this. Everyone should themselves a favor and watch it as soon as possible. I know for sure I'll be watching it for a second time.

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    1. Thanks man! I can't wait to watch this again and again as well. Awards for Arrival will depend how much money the studio is willing to fork out for it, which I hope is lot. This one deserves recognition for sure! Thanks for stopping by, always great to hear from you.

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  15. I will be the first to say, I will pick just about anything over a Sci-Fi movie but this is not a Sci-Fi movie, it's a unique work that hasn't been done before. You nailed it when you stated that the movie is about life, love, and understanding each other. Arrival is a visual metaphor of how we as a society communicate with one another and the character of Louise Banks sends out a message that there is a pronounced difference between words and intent. The story is brilliant and Amy Adams delivers an Outstanding Performance! Both this an Nocturnal Animals are the best films I've seen all year.

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    1. So happy you liked this one. Yeah, Sci-Fi is not my preferred genre, but Arrival is different. That aliens are just the device the filmmakers use to show the importance of communication. I still really need to see this one again, actually.

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