Film Review: ‘Arrival’

Denis Villeneuve delivers a slice of remarkable science fiction cinema 

that’s far from being a typical blockbuster…

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Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma

Directed by:  Denis Villeneuve / Written by:  Eric Heisserer (adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang)

What’s it about?

When strange alien vessels appear around the Earth, linguist Louise Banks is called upon by the U.S. Military to try and communicate with the mysterious visitors…

In review

Wowed by critics and earning a respectable box office gross on its theatrical run late last year, director Denis Villeneuve’s intelligent and mesmerising sci-fi mystery has far more in common with the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar than more straight forward, crowd-pleasing (but generally enjoyable on their own merits) alien invasion blockbusters such as Independence Day.

Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Arrival (not to be confused with the Charlie Sheen starring bargain-bin 1996 B-movie The Arrival) is beautifully acted, hauntingly realised and thought provoking with its intellectually challenging and mind-bending hard SF concepts that shuns the more generic, formulaic and predictable tropes that all too often afflict the genre.

Arrival concerns the mysterious appearance of twelve pebble-like extra-terrestrial vessels around the globe and the efforts to form a means of communication with the alien visitors and discover their intentions and purpose for coming to Earth.  Heading up the central cast is Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics expert enlisted by the military to board the alien ‘shell’ floating above the United States.  Sorely overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards, Adams delivers a powerhouse performance that subtly yet believably conveys the intellect and emotional strife of her character.  Supporting Adams is Jeremy Renner as physicist Ian Donnelly, a role that demonstrates his ability to stretch beyond the action-star heroics of the Mission: Impossible and Avengers franchises.  Completing the central core of characters is Forest Whitaker in a suitably authoritative turn as Colonel Weber.

Avoiding cliché, Arrival depicts the reaction of the global governments, their military solutions, the awe of the scientific community and the escalating panic of the world’s population with a laudable degree of realism and plausibility, presenting a painfully true reflection upon the world as it stands today.

Earning plaudits for his work on Sicario, Denis Villeneuve – currently putting the finishing touches to Blade Runner 2049 – brings strokes of arthouse cinema to Arrival whilst maintaining a focus on the principal cast, keeping the overall experience dazzling and captivating via Bradford Young’s incredible cinematography and Johann Johannsson’s wonderfully atmospheric and immersive music score (embellished by the film’s inspired audio design), skilfully ratcheting up the tension as the final act satisfyingly unfolds.

Sure to be revered as a modern science fiction classic in the years to come, at its heart and beneath heady intellectual ideas, Arrival contains messages about communication and understanding that expresses a sense of hope, even in the face of darkness.

The bottom line:  Haunting, beautifully constructed and simply mesmerising, Arrival is a wondrous piece of intellectual SF cinema that’s masterfully directed and superbly acted.

Arrival is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats now.

Arrival

Preparing to make contact: Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve’s captivating sci-fi mystery ‘Arrival’.

Film Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ (spoiler free)

Mission accomplished?

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

Directed by:  Christopher McQuarrie / Written by:  Christopher McQuarrie (story by Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

With the IMF disbanded, Ethan Hunt and his teammates must evade capture by the CIA whilst they seek to thwart the plans of the mysterious rogue organisation known as The Syndicate…

In review

Rogue Nation is the fifth instalment of Tom Cruise’s popular action film franchise based on the classic television series which ran during the late sixties/early seventies (and resurrected briefly in the 1980s).  With 2011’s Ghost Protocol proving a huge critical and financial hit, the pressure was surely on to make the IMF’s latest adventure as big and good as, if not better than their previous outing.

Rogue Nation largely succeeds and is undoubtedly a strong and reliable addition to the series, whilst there may be a touch of the familiar the filmmakers have deftly straddled the line of delivering everything that made Ghost Protocol work so well whilst ensuring that there are enough fresh elements to complement the overall ‘package’.

Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who has worked with Tom Cruise previously on Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow) succeeds Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird as creative master of this newest Mission: Impossible and demonstrates a talented ability to skilfully stage the adrenalin infused large scale action set-pieces audiences have come to expect from the M:I series and present a labyrinthine spy narrative that never ceases to surprise with its numerous twist and turns.

Of course, the star of the show is Tom Cruise himself bringing the same relentless drive that has aided in the success of the Mission: Impossible film series.  Cruise injects the character of Ethan Hunt with the usual charisma and skill but as always it’s his extraordinary commitment to the film’s action and stunts that makes much of Rogue Nation so exhilarating, from clinging to the side of a cargo plane as it goes airborne, to trading heavy blows with Jens Hulten’s henchman through to the intense motorbike and car chases.  Yet, it’s actually a novel twist on the computer vault-data theft plot device from the first Mission: Impossible that stands out as one of the most exciting and daring action sequences in Rogue Nation.  Once again there are beautiful and varied locations, this time including Vienna, Morocco and London with some striking imagery provided by cinematographer Robert Elswit.

Returning from duty in Ghost Protocol are Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames.  Although Renner and Rhames are a little sidelined, Pegg’s role as Benji Dunn is once again significantly larger than his cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III and, as with Ghost Protocol, Pegg proves able to play both the comedic and the dramatic (and moments of both feel well balanced and well executed in Rogue Nation) effectively.  Alec Baldwin brings some decent star power to bolster proceedings as the CIA man charged with apprehending Hunt and his team and whilst Sean Harris’s raspy-voiced main antagonist isn’t as well defined and as menacing as some of the greatest Bond villains, he’s non-the-less suitably psychotic.

Aiding Hunt is Isla Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), a character with torn loyalties upon which much of the mystery and intrigue of Rogue Nation centres on.  The character of Faust and the manner in which she is played by Ferguson is a huge asset to the film and it would be welcome to see the series break trend and have her return for the already mooted sixth Mission: Impossible.

All in all, Rogue Nation is another mission safely and solidly accomplished.

The bottom line:  Rogue Nation is another successful big screen Mission: Impossible venture for producer/star Tom Cruise and his various collaborators with high stakes action combined with an intriguing and twisty spy plot.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is in cinemas now.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures' 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures’ ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’.

Have you seen…’Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year: 2011

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist

Director:  Brad Bird

What’s it about?

On a mission to prevent the terrorist Kurt Hendricks from acquiring Russian nuclear launch codes, Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team are framed for the bombing of the Kremlin.  Disavowed by the U.S. government, Hunt and his team must rely on their own resourcefulness and stop Hendricks from launching a nuclear attack against the United States.

In review

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the fourth and most recent entry (and certainly not the last – a fifth instalment is currently slated for a 2015 release) in the blockbuster Tom Cruise ‘Spy-Fi’ action franchise (based on the classic television series created by Bruce Geller) and safely qualifies as the best.

The plot is relatively uncomplicated yet smart with some neat twists and turns and allows for a number of exciting and tense action sequences, the obvious highlight being Hunt’s vertigo-inducing excursion outside the 830m high, 163 floor Burj Khalifa (all the more effective given Tom Cruise’s commitment to doing most of his own stunts) as well as the final face off with Hendricks (played with appropriate villainy by Nyqvist) in an automatic high rise car park.

Cruise, like him or loathe him (forgetting issues of his personal life, I happen to think he’s a good actor and a top action star), puts in another reliable performance as Ethan Hunt and is joined by new teammates Agent Jane Carter (the beautiful Patton) and Brandt (Renner, star of The Hurt Locker) and re-unites with pal Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, enjoying a rightfully enlarged part following his cameo in Mission Impossible III).  The group have great chemistry and is a key part of the film’s success.

Brad Bird, director of Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille makes his live action feature film debut here and it doesn’t show as he handles proceedings with skill and expertise.  Bird keeps things flowing at an appropriate pace, never becoming overwhelmed with the big scale action set-pieces.

Tying things together nicely is another exciting score from Michael Giacchino (who also scored Mission: Impossible III), incorporating Lalo Schifrin’s original themes from the television series.

Why you should watch it

Ghost Protocol is the best in the Mission: Impossible film series, it features engaging characters, edge of the seat thrills and even a measure of humour.  Seeing it is a mission you should definitely choose to accept.

Standout moment

Planning to intercept the launch codes from Hendricks the IMF team arrive at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  Part of their plan requires access to the building’s servers which they can only reach undetected from the outside – the team volunteer Hunt as the man for the job…

Did you know?

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is not only the most financially (as well as critically) successful in the series but is Tom Cruise’s biggest hit, grossing almost $700 million world-wide.

Watch it if you like…

Mission: Impossible III, The Bourne Legacy

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Tom Cruise's commitment to his own stunt work adds to the excitement of the Mission: Impossible film series.

Tom Cruise’s commitment to his own stunt work adds to the excitement of the Mission: Impossible film series.