Friday, 18 November 2016

David at the movies: at last - an INTELLIGENT sci-fi movie


A sci-fi movie that assumes there is intelligent life in the cinema is something of a rarity. Arrival reworks themes from other movies - notably 2001 and Contact - but it reworks them with a fresh perspective that makes this movie seem intriguing and original.

Shell-shaped spacecraft arrive at various locations around the globe. The US one hovers over a field in Montana which quickly becomes a military zone like Area 51. Linguistics expert Amy Adams is summoned to try to communicate with the octopus-shaped aliens who squirt their words onto a clear wall that separates them from the scientists and their military escorts whom they allow inside the craft.

The big question, of course, which occupies the entire movie, is: Have they come in peace? With (fond!) memories of Mars Attacks and War of the Worlds, I was constantly anticipating mayhem. In the Pentagon (clearly not presided over by a Bush or a Trump) the doves, for once, are not silenced, but around the world the hawks squawk the loudest, inevitably.

The CGI here manages to be stunning without being over-the-top. Adams gives a nicely judged performance which justifiably dominates the movie. The story lacks pace but it delivers on thought-provoking content. Probably, as in 2001 and Contact, most of the audience will come out wondering, What the hell was that all about? Good: get 'em thinking. Treat us as intelligent beings - like the tentacle people!


Seven years after his debut movie A Single Man, Tom Ford has directed another offbeat movie, adapted by him from a fairly off-the-wall novel. Amy Adams plays NYC art gallery owner Susan whose ex-husband Edward has just published a novel that she reads as an acid attack on her. The word REVENGE is spelled out in one of Susan's paintings, so we know where she's coming from. Edward's novel, visualised for the audience, features the violent outcome of a highway breakdown for Tony and his wife and daughter. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Edward and Tony, although in the desert scenes his wife is played by Isla Fisher, not Ms Adams.

The movie switches from the Susan scenes to the desert drama without confusion for the viewer. The violence is very graphic and reminded me of the Toby Jones version of Capote's In Cold Blood, which I watched again recently. As in A Single Man, fashionista Tom Ford directs for Style as much as Substance: the camera hovers on the details of decor both in Manhattan and in the desert; it also lingers on the faces and bodies of the actors. Gyllenhaal has rarely acted (or looked) better. Rather like Julianne Moore in the earlier movie, Amy Adams is unsympathetically presented: it's Jake who's as much the victim as his alter ego's family. This is a dark and disturbing movie, intelligently scripted and powerfully directed.

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