Tag Archives: Amy Adams

Arrival (2016): A Great High Concept Sci. Fi. Film That Just Needed More Heart

arrival

   “Arrival” is a film I really enjoyed but could have been better and more. Non-spoiler thoughts up front…at times it drags and there just isn’t enough heart as there are two characters we don’t really get to know which gives the film the detached feeling of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I’d still recommend it though.

   The film was directed by Denis Velleneuve, written by Eric Heisserer and produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde while being based off the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

   The story involves linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) being called onto the scene of First Contact as strange alien pods have touched down all over the world and humanity is attempting to communicate before other countries decide to attack them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! Countries act with fear but also with openness too as their societies crumble from the masses unable to take first contact, but they go forward anyway. This universe is full of stakes that make the importance of first contact all the greater. The aliens also have a cool squid like design.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially in how it presents the inside of the UFOs and the outside as they float above different areas of the world. It keeps the mystery and suspense up just seeing them as the music plays. Bradford Young did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Johann Johannsson did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that reminded of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and with it power and mystery as the aliens aren’t so much a threat as a great unknown. The soundtrack captures this beautifully in how limited it is.

Louise – Amy Adams is the best part of the film as it is her relationship with her daughter and those in the future that help her solve the problem of first contact in the present. She is really cool and I liked how human she was. She was anxious and nervous but went forward anyway because she wanted to and she knew what was at stake. The only thing that felt tacked on was her romance with Ian.

Cyclical Time – In this time is cyclical and it is events in the future that prep Louise to solve the problems in the past. From General Chang telling her what they talked about that made him call off his attack on the aliens, to her daughter and her marriage to Ian. This changes her as she now perceives time as the aliens do.

Okay: Ian – Ian is just kind of there. Renner does a good job with him but he is mostly a support character and he isn’t given the chance to really make his own decisions outside of how they relate to Louise, so more could have been done with him.

Colonel Weber – Whitaker does a good job with what he’s given but Weber’s motivations are never fully explored. He is supportive and antagonistic at different points but we never get why. He just represents the U.S. governments reaction to the project at the end of the day.

Okay/Con: The Ending’s Length – The ending goes on way too long and could have just ended with Ian and Louise starting their romance and it would have been fine, instead we see the future with them talking about having a kid (who we know will die of cancer later). It could have been cut down and been the more powerful for it.

The Cons: Pacing – Segments of the film drag, especially after first contact is made and they are figuring out how to ask the aliens for their motivation. The switch from understanding one another from not is really quick too which made the pacing all strange and didn’t help the film.

Detachment – The film is a bit too detached at times. For example we don’t learn anything about Ian until the very end when his romance with Louise is a major part of the film. He is still great and is given chances to shine but we never really get his motivation at first beyond Scientist Stereotype (loves science to science!). I think if there had been more of a core and less detachment the script would have explored that better.

   This is a film well worth your time. I wouldn’t consider it in my Top 5 of 2016, but it is still a film I’d highly recommend. The detachment of the narrative didn’t change the fact that I cared about Amy Adams’s character and was rooting for first contact to be successful. In that way it as a successful “Twilight Zone” episode as even though it was detached I found myself still really enjoying the story, even if at times it dragged. I you are a fan of sci. fi. like I am, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.1 / 10

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – A Good Batman Story Trapped in a Terrible Film

Batman v Superman

      “Batman v Superman” is a terrible film. There is a good film in here (“The Dark Knight Returns” and what could have more fully come with that) but all that is drowned out in the baggage of Lois and Clark and anything involving some of the worst villains I have seen on screen. Lex Luthor and Doomsday are absolutely terrible characters and I never felt threatened or interested in them due to how they were written and portrayed. This is a film that tried to do so much and ended up completely failing because of it.

     The film was directed by Zack Snyder and wrote by David Goyer with Chris Terrio. The film was produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

     The story starts with “Man of Steel” leaves off with Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction of a Wayne Tower by Superman in the “Battle for Metropolis,” after saving people he is filled with hate towards Superman and thinks he is a threat that must be dealt with. Elsewhere Lex Luthor plots Superman’s destruction as well.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this film like “Man of Steel” is beautiful. The dark color pallet creates a visually stunning film that Larry Fong truly did a masterful job portraying. It looks like comics turned film, which is one of the few things this film has going in it’s favor.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautiful score and with Junkie XL we actually get some pretty rocking pieces…for example Wonder Woman has a fantastic theme that really captures the power of her character.

Perry White – Fishburne is finally allowed to do something! I really enjoyed the small role he played in this as the cynical editor of “The Daily Planet” who knows he is in a dying industry so is making the most out of what is profitable.

Alfred – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. His wit is dry and sharp and you can tell that he’s given up on helping Bruce Wayne move on so simply does what he can to protect him and help him realize the bigger picture. He really is an awesome character and I wish we’d gotten more time with him.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck is a fantastic Batman and I can’t wait to see his solo outing. He potrays Batman who has lost all sense of grounding and has gone full Punisher so well…this is the Batman of “The Dark Returns.” He’s lost everything and is ready to do anything to protect his city and people, even if it means killing an unknown quantity like Superman. From his branding of criminals, to his shooting of minions…this Batman has lost all hope and really doesn’t reclaim any sense of self until the very end.

Against Authority and the Corruption of Power – A running theme is one of anti-authority and a critique of power, especially that which is absolute. We see the government hearings, Batman and Lex attempt to hold Superman’s power in check, while in the case of Lex and Batman they were already a corrupt power already out for themselves…in this way there really aren’t any heroes. No one is there to protect the innocent and reel unchecked power in, and that is the true tragedy of the film as this should have been what the film was about with a moral Superman and vigilante Batman.

Okay: Wonder Woman / Diane Prince – We don’t get to know Wonder Woman all that well except to learn she was around in World War 1 and is a Meta-human. She has an awesome theme song though and the scenes we have with her are alright. I’m interested in her solo film at least.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois continues to be a cipher and plot device and I couldn’t stand her character. She never brings up Jimmy Olsen or his death or asks Superman why he isn’t looking at the bigger picture beyond her, she’s part of the problem with Superman and that never gets called out. She is a core reason why he’s so selfish.

Martha Wayne – Martha is just kind of there and also enabling Superman’s lack of growth as she tells him that he owes humanity nothing (um, Earth is his adopted world so he owes it by being a part of it) and she like Lois just needs to be saved and focuses as a cliched plot device.

Superman / Clark Kent – This guy is a cipher who can only see Lois and random people on television tops. I thought he’d seek to write the wrongs of the battle of Metropolis but instead he spends all his time being selfish and not taking those who may die in his fights into account. He has no moral high ground over Batman and is just as bad. If Lex had actually been a well written character I would have been rooting for him to kill this guy.

Doomsday – Boring villain who looks like a giant Cave Troll and gets more powerful when he is hit with energy. Seriously, he only exists to kill Superman. He wasn’t even needed in this as Batman could have killed Superman and realized his mistake…instead we get a villain that is poorly rendered CGI and has zero character.

Let Luthor – Where Doomsday has zero character Lex lacks a consistent character. I didn’t know why he wanted to kill Superman as him being anti-alien and super hero made no sense when he created Doomsday, his plots were also pointless too as Batman was already trying to kill Superman. Jessie Eisenberg is just awful. Seriously, this guy annoyed me more than Sandman and Venom in “Spider-Man 3” and Doctor Doom in the “Fantastic Four” films. One theory is he is Lex Jr. and the real Lex Luthor is still in the wings, I hope so because this guy is an inconsistent joke who comes off as a really poor rendition of the Joker.

Lack of Focus – There are three films in this. The Batman film, which is good. The Justice League film which goes from okay to bad, and the Superman film which is just terrible. Either one of these films on their own could have been a favorite, or at least enjoyable yet flawed like “Man of Steel.” Instead it all feels rushed and I found myself face palming and sighing multiple times during this film. I didn’t care about the characters because we were never given time to, or in the case of Superman and his villains…they were so poorly written no amount of time could have fixed it.

The Ending – Superman dies but maybe isn’t dead, he sent Lois a ring proposing to her, Lex says a bigger bad is coming from beyond the stars and Wonder Woman and Batman work on forming the Justice League to honor Superman…None of this worked.

  This is a film that could have been great. Had we gotten a story that only involved “Batman v Superman” and was Snyder’s “Dark Knight Returns,” it would have been amazing! There would have been focus, there wouldn’t have been the baggage and clutter and the larger themes wouldn’t have become lost within this mess of a plot. I don’t recommend this film at all, Affleck is not reason enough to see this film, just wait until the stand alone “Batman” film is released. This film is loud, pointless and the good of Batman is not enough to offset the cluttered story, terrible villains and bland Superman. I seriously don’t recommend this film. Not worth your money or time. Zack Snyder should have just done his version of “The Dark Knight Returns” or done another solo Superman movie.

Final Score: 5 / 10 For the good Batman story in the mess.

Man of Steel (2013): Great Villain, Bland Leads and a World Worth Exploring

Man of Steel poster

   “Man of Steel” is a controversial film, and after seeing it I get why. This is a film that isn’t a favorite, but I didn’t hate it either. I found the main leads boring but I found the world they inhabited fascinating, and I did enjoy the villain a lot. I found the writing clunky but the cinematography and score helped counter that in some ways…this is film that I’m torn over a little bit and at the end of the day, I did enjoy…even if I’m not likely to see it again anytime soon. What lead me to checking out this film is I plan on reviewing “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” soon and since that is a direct sequel to this film, I figured I should do my research and finally watch it.

      The film was directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan with the producers being Charles Roven and Deborah Snyer, Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas.

     The story involves the origin of Superman (Henry Cavill) in regards to his childhood and the fall of Krypton leading to General Zod (Michael Shannon) returning to Earth in order to shape the planet into a new Krypton.

  The Pros: The Cinematography – Amir Mokri does a fantastic job on the cinematography and shows us a dark world full of life and color. We see it in the adventures in the wilderness with Superman and at the beginning especially when alien Krypton and it’s destruction is shown to us.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates a masterful soaring score that really captures the promise of Superman and also the danger of the villains he faces. These are aliens who are as powerful as the best of humanity’s tech and the score captures the alienness of Krypton and those who come from it, even Superman.

The Universe – I like this Universe. I found Krypton very cool, from the High Council, the Military, the fact that people are raised to be in certain roles (creating a caste system) and how Jor-El’s heresy leads to Superman’s creation and also the destruction of Krypton’s people, culture and world as a whole. I also like how humanity fears Superman…it feels believable and from that Superman’s vulnerability and inability to really save people as he doesn’t understand his power fully.

Krypton – This is my third timing mention Krypton, but it is worth doing so. I loved Krpyton’s design and the technology on the planet as well as the mixture of biology and tech. This was a world that I wanted to spend more time in and would have watched and loved the movie if it just took place here and wasn’t about Superman at all until the very end.

Jor-El – Russell Crowe was great as Superman’s dad. He was easily the best actor in this and the writing for him felt the most natural. His personal relationship and rivalry with Zod was fantastic too and I like how they had a grudging respect for one another, even up until the end. They were equals and in the end both were destroyed because of it.

General Zod – Michael Shannon is awesome! I really want to see this guy in more films after this. This is a guy who could ham it up and have an aura of fear and crazy about it. He reminded me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played The Comedian in “Watchmen.” I wanted to know this character more and he truly felt like a threat the entire time. I got why Superman couldn’t save people and had to kill him, as long as this guy lived Earth would be under threat of total annihilation and he’d do it and could do it, even without his technology.

General Calvin Swanwick – Harry Lennix is great in everything I’ve seen him in. He gives character and depth to a role that would usually be stock in any other film (and was for all the Daily Planet folks and the Kents). I hope he’s in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Okay: Superman – Cavill is okay but he isn’t given the chance to show all that much depth. He’s sad and angry and we see him smile…once. I get being thoughtful but Cavill isn’t that great of an actor, thoughtful just ends up looking angry. He was one of the weakest but I at least got his motivation and his desire to look after those around him.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois Lane is a plot device in this. She is a living McGuffin that moves around plot points to advance the story. Poor Amy Adams…the one time she has a chance to do something (relationship with Superman) there isn’t any chemistry. She really wasn’t needed in this story and her role could be filled by anybody.

Perry White – Fishburne is a good actor but in here he is just a stock character type. The Daily Planet doesn’t really do anything and he like Lois Lane is there mostly to be saved by Superman….

Jonathan and Martha Kent – These two are the final stock types….there is paranoid Jonathan who wants Clark to keep his powers secret until he’s ready even if people die…and his Mom who is just kind of there and isn’t given anything to do. These folks felt like American^tm

Blatant Product Placement – Superman fights in the IHOP, used to work at the IHOP and over the course of the film there. This was super annoying and thankfully the action distracted from this because every time something came I couldn’t help but be annoyed…I get films need endorsements and money to be made, but this doesn’t have to “Transformers” level obvious.

      This is a deeply flawed but enjoyable movie. It makes me want to go back and check out other versions of the character from Bruce Timm’s version of the character, the original Superman of the films and even the very hated “Superman Returns.” I’ll admit he isn’t the guy I’m drawn to DC comics for. It is hard to tell a compelling Superman story as so much of what creates drama is the facing of adversity and if you are someone with only one weakness, it’s hard to create tension. In that way Superman is only as interesting as the world around him and I found the world around him in this fascinating, even if the character paled in comparison to the villain.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

The Master (2012): A Critique of Cults and an Exploration of an Anarchistic and Tyrannical Mind

The Master 2012

      This film was a trip, but I would not expect any less from Paul Thomas Anderson. He is one of those writers and directors who have really good quality films but none of them are really favorites. I think a big reason for this is the actors do a great job but the characters they inhabit are so horrible it is hard to have sympathy for the plights they face. This is very true of this film as well where we follow a Cult Leader and Drunk as the primary characters of the narrative.

   “The Master,” was directed, written and co-produced by Paul Thomas Anderson with the other producers being JoAnne Seller, Daniel Lupi and Megan Ellison.

     The story follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who is a drunk drifter who makes special liquor with paint thinner as he alienates every environment after World War 2 ends. He starts out as a photographer, loses the job after he fights a client, a laborer until he accidentally poisons an old man and ends up hopping on the boat that the Cult Leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is on. From here is taken in by “The Cause” as he tries to be a part of it while dealing with his rebellion against any form of authority over him as the drama of the Cult unfolds through the story.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful. There are elements of 50’s Jazz and the instrumentals are great as well. It really captures the desolation of the characters too and how they all feel alone.  Jonny Greenwood did a good job.

The Cinematography – The movie was filmed in 70mm which ended up giving it some great wide shots and making the film feel large, even if most of the seasons were very personal scenes. It allowed glimpses into the characters’ minds. Mihai Malaimare jr. did great work.

The Themes – The big themes of it are that power corrupts (The Master Lancaster is always using people to his own end and ego), humans have a need for leaders and are lost without them (the drifter Freddie never changes and never finds purpose except when he was taking photos with “The Cause”), and to not believe those who claim things that cannot be proven (The most reasonable characters are those that are yelled at by Lancaster or beaten up by Freddie for questioning Lancaster Dodd).

The Message – There are few messages that the themes explored. The human need for authority and how those in authority, especially religious authority often use it to their own ends and that authority unchecked is dangerous. Within this is the theme that authority should be questioned, especially when it makes claims it cannot prove. There is also the importance of direction as Freddie has none and never finds peace which seems to be something he’s trying to find throughout the film.

The Actors – Amy Adams does a great job playing the manipulative “girl next door” type character, Hoffman was masterful as the demagogue who had a calm confidence that was lost whenever he was questioned and Phoenix played the drifter really well as he contorted his body and murmured every line like he wasn’t ever fully present in anything. These performances were great, but I couldn’t stand the characters.

The Cons: The Characters – The Master and his family are only out for themselves and believe they are saving the world and are therefore entitled to others wealth. You see this constantly in how they turn on those who question their claims and try to shout over them rather than answering the questions. They claim science without actually using it. Freddie isn’t any better as he is always picking fights, poisoning himself and others and never committing to anything. He is the drifter in a nutshell in the worst way as he never grows and has no arc. He like the Master is the same person he was when they met. Because I couldn’t like any of the characters it’s a major con for me as characters are what keep me interested in the story and caring about what happens.

     Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whose movies may grow on me with time. For now though, the unlikability of his characters is a major con that keeps his films I have watched (including this one) from being favorites. It was good, it was well made,had relevant and great themes that were shown and not told, well filmed and acted…but if I’m not invested in the characters than I’m not invested enough in the plot and what happens to the characters. This is a major problem for me and what made the film good and not great.

Final Score: 8 / 10.