Arrival Review

After Prisoners back in 2013, and last year’s hit Sicario, Denis Villeneuve became a director to follow closely. And just in time for Oscar season, he’s managed to conjure up another film. Does his new film sit with Sicario on a Best-Of list, or does only one year leave enough room for it?

Arrival stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker and Tzi Ma and is directed by Denis Villeneuve. Based on the short story by Ted Chaing, the film follows linguist Louise (Adams) and scientist Ian (Renner) as they are called in by the US military to study a UFO landing in Montana, with the duo leading the charge to create formal contact between the species.

After her lacklustre acting in BvS, Amy Adams is back on form. The film starts with an almost silent five minute backstory, flashing at different moments in her life, filling us in on the important details. It reminded me a little of the opening from Up, an entirely visual way of learning who the character is without any need for exposition or dialogue. Jeremy Renner is also good as the other side of the research team. While it is a little funny to see a nerdy scientist have the body of Hawkeye, his interactions with Adams, as they decipher the alien’s language is interesting and intriguing to watch.

The cinematography is a great part of the film, easily standing up with the rest of Villeneuve’s work. The first time we see the alien spaceship, it’s a wide landscape shot. The film is set in Montana, so it’s open fields, mountains and immense clouds of fog rolling in. The helicopter comes out of the mist surrounding the UFO, the music swells and we have an excellent long take, with the helicopter moving in slow and steady. It’s easily one of the best shots of the year and will certainly nab a nomination.

The aliens are hardly seen in the film, and in my opinion that is a good thing. Most films would want to throw the aliens at the screen (Independence Day 2), but here it’s much more restrained. Again, just like the first time we see the spaceship, the first time we see the aliens is a long, tense shot. When they hove out of the mist, long spidery legs tapping on the floor, it’s breathtaking and unnerving. It’s a brilliant attempt at show-don’t-tell, with only vague silhouettes moving about in the distance.

Lastly, the music is a fantastic addition to the film. Johann Johannsson, who worked with Villeneuve before on Sicario, again brings a stellar accompaniment to the film. Using a mix of traditional instruments such as piano and strings, then mixing them with drones, loops and electronic beeps, the film has a weird mash-up of a grand, sweeping scale with undercurrents of technology and the future.

The one thing I had a problem with is the story. It’s not a problem in the usual sense, more of a caution if you are thinking of going to see the film. Arrival is a narrative-heavy story and I think it’s one of the best this year. It’s a film that has many revelations, some of them making you look at the first half of the film in a completely different light. It takes a while to get there though, the film is nearly two hours long but didn’t become the epic odyssey until the final twenty minutes. To get the most enjoyment out of it, you have to pay attention, I just wanted to make sure you knew that before you decide to go on a whim.

In the end, Arrival was a near-mind blowing experience. From the superb visuals and the hidden story elements throughout, it’s one that will be remembered in years to come.

Score: 9/10 Will have you wracking your brain for days after you watch it.

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Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).