‘Arrival’ Review

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Abigail Pniowsky, and Tzi Ma

Synopsis: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the short story called “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (which I haven’t read so I’m basing this review off the film), Arrival is directed by one of my new favorite directors in Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). The film had me hooked from the teaser trailer, and the film has been on my watch-list for a while and then hearing all the positive word of mouth from film festival and critics, I was finally happy to go watch it. While Arrival takes a while to get going, the film is definitely going to be one of those films you either get invested in or want to stay away from.

The film follows renowned linguist Dr. Louise Brooks (Adams), who is brought in by the government, more specifically Army Colonel Weber (Whitaker), to attempt to learn and decipher the language of the aliens that have just arrived on Earth. However, the aliens stay in the oval alien ships, called Shells by the government, so with a team that also includes scientist Ian Donnelly (Renner), they must figure out a way to communicate with the aliens before the world takes matters into their own hands.

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The plot synopsis there is a bit vague, and for a reason, since I don’t want to give too much away plot and story-wise. In fact, the less you know about Arrival the better. Thankfully the trailers and ads haven’t given too much away, so you can go in and just enjoy the ride the film lays out for you. However, you should know this film despite being an “aliens coming to Earth” film, this is a drama. So don’t go in expecting a random shootout or aliens running wild through New York (even though New York is never shown in the film). That being said, I liked the fact that the film is just a drama, and it really all lands on the leads.

Amy Adams is also someone you can rely on because you know she’s giving it all in her performances, and she does the same here. The film rests on her shoulders, similar to how Louise probably feels in the film. Everyone is counting on her and Ian to come up with some way to figure out a language that no one has seen before. Adams is pretty much in every shot in the film, and for good reason.

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When it comes to the rest of the cast, they do their part. Jeremy Renner has his moments, and for a good part of the film is like the audience in he’s in both awe and excited to meet aliens for the first time. Forest Whitaker plays the straight-laced, no-nonsense army colonel, but other than that he doesn’t really do much, but having Whitaker in your film never hurts. Michael Stuhlbarg, who’s someone you should get to remembering, plays an agent who comes and goes throughout the film and is somewhat antagonist to Louise and Ian, but for good reason. He’s basically everyone else in the world saying what if the aliens just decide to attack. Stuhlbarg also disappears from the film for a while, but when he appears his scenes carry weight.

One thing that, again, will divide people from potentially watching the film is Arrival is a drama, but more importantly a sci-fi film – there are aliens after all. The characters and film bring up interesting, thoughtful, and important questions that – if this really happened – we would hope anyone involved would ask and try to figure out. The film has things to unpack, but not enough to overwhelm you or make you wonder for long. The other nice thing is the film never tries to talk down or dumb things down for the viewer, which the film could have easily done, and I’m glad that writer Eric Heisserer didn’t do so.

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Also, for a film devoted to language, the film also – to steal a line that I read somewhere – speaks the language of film. The cinematography by Bradford Young is fantastic, especially the shot we get when Louise and Ian first see the Shell from a distance and the rolling in fog coming in from the mountains. The visual effects that combine with the production design are pretty top notch, and are mostly on display in the Shell with the aliens. Speaking of the aliens, their design is rather interesting to say the least, I won’t go into how they look, but the design was something I was not expecting. Finally, the score by Johann Johansson (who did the score for Sicario) really puts you in the state of mind of the characters and the environment. There are parts that equal fear and dread, but also moments of wonder.

All in all, Arrival will not be for everyone. In fact, I’m sure most will be heavily divided on the film. However, that doesn’t take away anything from everyone involved. Arrival takes the sci-fi alien genre and turns it on its head to full and great effect. The film could require multiple viewings to find deeper meanings and fully embrace the concepts and final act, but overall, Arrival is a film that will leave you leaving the theater and talking about it all the way home.

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Arrival

4.5 out of 5

‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ Review

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, and James Vanderbilt

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Deobia Oparei, John Storey, Nicolas Wright, Travis Tope, Patrick St. Esprit, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Joey King, and Vivica A. Fox

Synopsis: Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind’s new space defense be enough?

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When Independence Day came out back in 1996, it changed the Summer Blockbuster forever. It changed the way studios thought about making films and made Will Smith an automatic star in Hollywood. Needless to say, Independence Day was a huge hit. While a sequel was in wanted by the studio way back when, it never came because Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin couldn’t crack the story. Fast forward to today, where every studio in Hollywood is trying to create franchise and their own universes, but are always going by the motto, “what old is new again.” Cue Independence Day: Resurgence, and trying to copy what the original did and try to catch some of the nostalgia going around. So, does Resurgence work? Well, sort of.

The film takes place twenty years after the War of 1996, as they call it in the film, and the world leaders have put aside their differences to use the technology from the aliens to better their own world, and create their own advanced technology like weapons, spacecrafts, and defensive bases within the solar system. Of course, everyone knew they might be coming back, but it might be worse than they originally thought when former President Whitmore (Pullman) gets a vision that suggests another alien invasion is coming sooner than we all thought.

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Meanwhile, David Levinson (Goldblum) goes find an old ship that has been mysteriously turned on, and finds out that it has sent out a distress beacon. While this is happening, up on the base on the Moon, former pilot Jake Morrison (Hemsworth) and his flight partner Charlie Miller (Tope) welcome the new flight team that is lead by Dylan Hiller (Usher), the son of Will Smith’s character from the first film that tragically died in-between events of the film, and now carries on his father’s legacy. We also find out that Jake and Dylan have a history together, and also have a common friend in now an adult Patricia Whitmore (Monroe), who works for the new president in President Lanford (Ward). Eventually, Whitmore’s vision comes true and a new mothership comes, which as David puts, it is “definitely bigger than the last one.” What follows is all of our old and new band of heroes coming together to stop this new threat and save the world once again.

At this point, we should all know what we are all walking into with a Roland Emmerich-directed film: Mass Destruction. We get that in Independence Day: Resurgence early on when the new mothership comes to Earth and covers most of the Pacific Ocean, it takes out a couple cities, London and I believe Tokyo or Hong Kong (I wasn’t sure and it wasn’t said). The destruction scene feels similar to what we’ve seen before, I mean, a lot has been done since 1996, and Emmerich has tried to destroy the world a lot sense then too. The ship having its own gravity is a nice twist, but it’s never really bought up again.

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The real focus of the film is the humans, and here is where we have a mixed bag. None of the new characters really stand out, and it’s nothing against them as actors, it’s just that some to most of all the characters arcs are underdeveloped. Then there actors, like Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch and Sela Ward who don’t really do anything of significance at all. Even Bill Pullman takes a bit of a backseat, while Brent Spiner as Dr. Okun is trying a bit too hard to act like he did in the original film, and his return does make some sense, for those wondering how the hell he’s back. The last returning member is Goldblum, whose character is now head of the Space Defense Program, but his character isn’t as fun as he was in the original.

Jessie Usher as Dylan Hiller is okay, but he isn’t Will Smith, not many are, and while that sounds like an insult, I wasn’t trying to say it as a negative thing, but he doesn’t really give off the same charm. Hemsworth feels like he’s really the bigger lead character as Jake Morrison. He’s also got a little more going on than the other characters, but like the other characters isn’t developed enough to make us have any real connection. Maika Monroe, who I have become a real fan of, tries to standout, and while her arc makes a bit more sense, again, it’s underdeveloped and pushed aside for the sack of having more action. The rest of the supporting cast is okay with William Fichtner plays a General, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays someone from David’s past, Deobia Oparei plays a warlord’s son that has a strange connection with President Whitmore, and Dr. Okun. Nicolas Wright plays Floyd Rosenberg, a lawyer of some sort, who is one of the comic reliefs, yes I said one, because the other is Travis Tope’s Charlie Miller, who is friends with Hemsworth’s character.

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While it sounds like I’m bashing Independence Day: Resurgence, I did have some fun watching it, and not in the fun making fun of it while watching, I thoroughly enjoyed a great deal of the movie because let’s face it, none of us were walking into this thing thinking, Oscar winning, grade-A acting, and sophisticated story and plot. No, we walked in to turn our brains off and watch some humans vs. alien’s action.

Is it a mess? Oh hell yes it is. There are things that don’t really make too much sense when you step back and think about. Which again, it’s a sci-fi movie about aliens coming to our planet who we fight back with every nation in the world using weapons we built with their technology, but you know, still. There’s even a questionable use of the flawed de-aging effect, that really didn’t need to be used at all, and to be honest, it took me out film completely. There is an interesting twist in the third act that opens the film up to a sequel, but it’s bought up so late in the film that it loses it’s real effective and just feels like a “hey, we got one more for all of you!”

All in all, Independence Day: Resurgence is dumb fun, which is probably what many expected, but regardless, the film does have its pitfalls that make it go from okay and fun, to it’s alright and fun. The only gripe I have with the film is the ending which is a completely opened ended film that feels a bit cheesy for it’s own good. Small thing, considering the world we live in with Hollywood now, but it doesn’t mean we can let things like that pass.

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Independence Day: Resurgence

3.5 out of 5

‘Pixels’ Review

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Dir:  Chris Columbus

Writer(s): Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Matt Lintz, Jane Krankowski, and Brian Cox

Synopsis: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Based on the 2010 short from French director Patrick Jean (which I highly recommend), Pixels extends the idea of classic video games attacking major cities to aliens disguising themselves as classic video games to attack. I was pretty excited to learn they were making a movie based on the short, but was less excited when I heard that Adam Sandler was involved with his Happy Madison Production company. I’ll even admit that the first trailer didn’t do much for me and wasn’t even looking forward to this. The second trailer came out and I was warming up to it. Now, watching the movie itself, well my mind was changed. Pixels is not perfect, but it still is pretty enjoyable.

 

The movie starts off in the early 80s when friends Sam Brenner (Sandler) and Cooper (James) go to a grand opening of an arcade. Sam becomes a local favorite because he’s really good at the games and Cooper tells him to enter a championship league. There they meet Ludlow (Gad) and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Dinklage). Skip ahead to the present and Cooper is now the President of the United States, while Brenner works as an installation guy. However, Cooper soon has lot on his plate when a military base is attacked overseas in the form of Galaga.

 

Cooper and Lt. Col. Violet van Patten (Monaghan) – who early on in the film had already meet Brenner and the two don’t completely get along – bring in Brenner and Ludlow, who is a conspiracy theorist and is the one that actually brings up the notion of aliens disguising themselves as classic video game characters, in to help the military lead by Admiral Porter (Cox) to take them down. They also need the help of a now jailed Eddie to take down the aliens.

 

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Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t really looking forward toward Pixels. I, probably, like many of you, thought this was going to be another unfunny, dumb, lame joke (although there are flat jokes in there) movie by Adam Sandler. Also, like I said, Pixels is not a perfect movie. Once you get past the notion that Kevin James is playing the President somehow, they never mention how he became president, and how everyone somewhat accepts the idea that it is aliens disguising themselves as classic video games OR even that they bring in civilians to deal with the situation, Pixels is enjoyable for the most part. All that sounds nitpicky, but it’s hard to avoid it once you watch the movie.

 

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The idea behind the aliens thinking that the capsule that was sent up to space to make communication them was an act of war is pretty interesting, but it is never really fleshed out. It is bought up, but they way they handled it was off to me. Even some of clichés the movie brings up didn’t bother me so much as it will probably other people. The clichés, dare I say this, work for the movie, but only to a certain extent. Some of the references are dated, but considering the concept of the movie you don’t necessarily have to forgive it, but it helps you experience the movie better. I’m not making excuses for the movie, but at the end of the day it is an Adam Sandler movie.

 

Speaking of Sandler, he does okay here. Although, I haven’t really watched a Sandler film in a long time, it does look at times like he’s phoning it in sometimes. Josh Gad has his funny moments and plays a bit the role a bit over-the-top, but the role calls for it and Gad nails it. Peter Dinklage looks like he’s having fun playing the role and even has some scene stealing lines as the arrogant and egotistical video game player. The personality fades away a bit near the end unfortunately, but he will no doubt be a fan-favorite, if not for the character then at least for fact that it’s played by Peter Dinklage.

 

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Michelle Monaghan, the only real female actress of the movie besides Jane Krakowski who doesn’t really do anything than being the First Lady, has her own moments to shine as well. Although, without spoiling it, the character feels a bit inconsistent when you first see her to later in the final act. Still she holds her own with what she’s given. Kevin James also doesn’t get a lot to do here, sure he has a couple good moments, but for the most part he’s a supporting character that pops in every now and then.

 

The rest of the supporting cast don’t do much and play into the clichés that I briefly spoke of earlier. Brian Cox’s Admiral Porter is the tough and no nonsense-type that doesn’t believe in “the arcaders.” While Ashley Benson’s Lady Lisa doesn’t show up until the final act and doesn’t even speak a line of dialogue. A nice surprise is fan favorite Sean Bean pops in a small role as another military leader that also doesn’t believe in the “arcaders.”

 

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If you don’t like the story or the characters then the action sequences should at least be fun for you. The heavily promoted Pac-Man chase scene is pretty fun to watch in its entirety and the King Kong fight is probably the next highlight, if not the highlight of the movie. The special effects is pretty cool and during the action sequences really elevate the scenes a little more.

 

All in all, Pixels was surprisingly enjoyable. Some of the jokes fall flat, but for the most part you’ll laugh for sure at some of the jokes. The movie does seem targeted a bit toward families, but pay attention to the rating, it is PG-13 for some language. If you’re a video gamer, especially the old-school games, you’ll enjoy some of the references scattered throughout. Pixels isn’t going to win any awards – maybe some Razzies – but go and judge for yourselves. Pixels is a lot of fun for the most part, and this is coming from a guy that wasn’t looking forward to it.

 

Pixels

3.5 out of 5

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‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Review

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Dir: Doug Liman

Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Charlotte Riley, and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Live. Die. Repeat.

 

 

Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel “All You Need is Kill” (with some changes obviously, although I don’t know how many because I haven’t read it), Edge of Tomorrow is a Groundhog Day-like movie with sci-fi elements, aliens, and the fate of the world. What more could you want?

 

Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage. More of a PR guy than a solider – even says he can’t stand the sight of blood – Cage goes to London to handle the media before a big attack, but ends up at odds with United Defense Force General Bingham (Gleeson) orders him to join the first wave so he can deliver a first-hand account of proceedings. That is if he can make it. Unsurprisingly, Cage sucks on the battlefield, even with the use of the weaponized suit. Once he finally gets a handle of the suit, he manages kill one of the aliens named Mimics and dies.

 

That’s right. Tom Cruise dies in the movie’s first ten minutes. And not some half-ass death either, no, it is a pretty gruesome death that I really did not see coming. But, of course we all know the twist is that Cruise doesn’t really die. It’s when he dies that he gets the power of a Mimic and he wakes up earlier in the day before the attack on the beach. Not knowing what’s going on at first, Cage relives the day over again and gets back on the beach but this time runs into war hero Rita Vrataski (Blunt). Rita soon realizes that Cage has gotten the ability that she herself once had before she lost it. She soon helps him to stop the all out extinction of the Mimics and destroy the source of their power.

 

One of the cool things about Edge of Tomorrow is the concept. Yes, we have seen it before but what the movie does it that it keeps a bit fresh. It is almost like a video game, Cage gets killed in a violent way every time but comes back and makes it a little farther every time. Every time he comes back, Cage is wiser and trains harder to become an actual soldier and stand side by side with Rita.

 

But with movies that involves some sort of time travel or repetition element to them, there is bound to be question raised on how everything works. Filmmakers can leave it up for the audience to figure out, or they have a character that describes it to them. Edge of Tomorrow has that character in the form of Dr. Carter (Taylor), who knows how the Mimics work and how the power that Cage has works. A lot of people usually see this as a sort of cop out because how does a guy know soo much about the enemy? This also leads to expositional block explaining how everything works and why it is important. Again, here Edge of Tomorrow begins to both distinguish itself from other films and is necessary, at least for this type of movie. But it does not mean it make mistakes along the way.

 

As you suspect, Cruise gets most of the screen time here, and does great. It’s nice though to see one of the biggest stars in Hollywood die over and over again, but also play a bit of a coward. We usually see Cruise play this hard, tough guy but here Cruise’s Cage will do anything to get out of fighting at the beginning. Emily Blunt is also good as always, and while I do not always agree with critics, Blunt should have gotten more screen time but thus is the position you play when starring alongside Tom Cruise.

 

The supporting cast has some real great moments, mostly over shadowed by Bill Paxton’s Master Sergeant Farrell. Paxton of course is no stranger to alien and genre fare movies so it is nice to see him here chewing up the scene. The actors that play J-Squad (Armstrong, Way, Gurry, Drameh, Riley) have their moments are, by the looks of them, the “loser” squad. Brendan Gleeson is nothing more than a glorified cameo, but is still nice to see him on screen, especially being a little antagonistic toward Cruise. Finally, the Mimics are interesting. Their designs look a lot like the Sentinels in The Matrix but are far quicker and deadlier looking.

 

Finally, despite all the action you see in the marketing – there is a lot – the movie is also really funny. The movie takes itself seriously, but never to the extent that it can not make fun of itself. Some of the funny moments come from Cage’s deaths, and some include Rita shooting Cage during to training. What’s also nice about the movie is you see the toll it takes on Cage to live day in and day out. Stuck in a loop you can’t escape from until you die, and then you have to restart. Yeah, that would suck.

 

All in all, I did not really expect to like Edge of Tomorrow as much as I did. The movie is fun and everything you want to enjoy in a summer movie. Everyone is either split of hates the ending of the movie. While I can see why people would have problems with it, I did not have a problem with it. If you want to have some fun, laugh, and see some pretty descent action Edge of Tomorrow will fill that need.

 

Edge of Tomorrow

4 out of 5