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An extraordinary film.
I saw this last night at the opening of the Mill Valley film Festival. Arrival is unlike any movie I've ever seen. It's about love, loss, tolerance, language and non-linear time, wrapped in a science fiction story about our first encounter with extraterrestrials.
Under director Denis Villeneuve's masterful direction, Arrival takes its time to unfold, but it gradually gets under your skin and commands your attention. The last half hour was one of the most emotional experiences I've had at the movies in a long time. There aren't many movies these days that I would call required viewing, but this is one of them. And Amy Adams is Oscar-worthy in the lead role. In fact, Arrival could also win Oscars for original score, sound, direction and Best Picture.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
A major disappointment
It was a conceit for the producers to think they could do justice to Le Carre's masterpiece in a 2 hour movie. Instead, what they have delivered is a rushed and incoherent condensation of the major plot points of the book which omits most of the backstory, with its petty bureaucratic infighting and backstabbing, sacrificing the dramatic weight of the original. It lacks the sad atmosphere of slow and inexorably building suspense that makes Tinker Tailor such a remarkable story and it's what makes this hurried remake for the attention deficit crowd so ill-conceived. That people have been impressed with this movie only shows how low the bar has been set for movie drama. Oldman's glum, wooden Smiley fails to convey any of the nuanced internal conflicts that were portrayed so brilliantly by Alec Guinness in the 1979 English TV mini-series. Skip this travesty and check out the 1979 production. You'll see what a great dramatization can be.
The Leftovers (2014)
I don't have time for this soap opera
I really wanted to like The Leftovers. It has a good cast and good writing. But at the end of the day, The Leftovers delivers nothing but glorified soap opera. It's an interminable, meandering wallow in existential pretense. It's a train forever going around a circular track with no destination. After giving The Leftovers four episodes to give me a reason to continue giving it my time I had to admit that there were no characters I cared enough about to follow in a story that clearly has no resolution in sight.
One thing is certain--if 2% of the world's human population really had suddenly up and vanished, finding an explanation for it would dominate the activities of virtually everyone left behind. But in the world of The Leftovers, everyone seems to have lost interest in finding the cause for the disappearance. Three years on, mankind has become a collection of spineless wimps, concerned only with their own petty and lives. In short, it's a soap opera, only with better actors and scriptwriting than your typical soap opera. Oh, and it has rogue dogs that attack wildlife. Wow.
I just don't accept the whole raison d'etre of the society depicted in The Leftovers as being credible, which is, perhaps, the most damning critique one can level at a show that is supposedly showing us something profound about human nature in lieu of giving us anything resembling a resolution. Call me old fashioned, but when I watch a TV drama I prefer to be entertained, not presented with a sophomoric treatise on mass Post Traumatic Syndrome. I want the story to be working toward a resolution. I want to be rewarded for the investment of my time. The Leftovers gives me nothing I want.
Prometheus was a huge letdown for me. I'm a big fan of some of Ridley Scott's earlier movies, like Blade Runner, Gladiator, and of course, Alien. Prometheus simply isn't in the same league as those.
Sure, it looks fabulous. The sets and special effects are terrific. Even his judicious use of 3D works, for the most part. But really, so what? Scott forgot that story is the most important part of any movie. Prometheus glosses over essentials like character development, backstory and suspense in its rush to get everyone into space as quickly as possible so the extraterrestrial slimefest can begin. It's not even all that scary. There's nothing that even comes close to the famous chest bursting scene in Alien for shock factor. It's all rather tame. You never gain any insight to any of the characters so you never have a clue what their motivations are. The movie opens with an archaeological expedition on Earth and suddenly in the very next scene we're in space enroute to meet our makers. Huh? Care to provide us with any plot development there, Ridley?
I have to grade Prometheus as only a C+, and almost all of that is for nothing more than set design. Pity.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
A Major Disappointment
After four years of waiting for the next chapter in the Matrix dystopian saga, Reloaded comes as a real letdown. Most of the movie is filler comprised of dull exposition and fight scenes which, while visually spectacular, are pointless because they don't serve to advance the storyline very much. Matrix Reloaded comes off like the most expensive video game commercial ever made. We are introduced to a few new characters, but they're never developed to the point where we might actually care about what happens to them. The dialog is so stilted it deserves to be in a Star Wars sequel. The love scenes between Neo and Trinity are so devoid of chemistry and irrelevant to the plot that I felt embarrassed for the actors. Granted, the first Matrix was a hard act to follow. But Reloaded should have been better. Part of the problem with this bloated cinematic dud has to do with what I call the Harry Potter Syndrome. It happens when the protagonist is omnipotent and can arbitrarily conjur up an infinite variety of superhuman gimmicks to defeat any possible threat. The result is the dramatic tension is so undermined that the story becomes an exercise in tedium. Neo is already a god in the Matrix, so there's never any real danger, never any risk. He'll always prevail because he's Neo and he can stop cyberbullets by holding up his hand. Wow. Excuse me while I snore. The story only starts to move along in the last 30 minutes, and then it's merely a setup for the cliffhanger ending. Matrix Reloaded is ultimately nothing more than two hours of stylish, brilliantly choreographed Hong Kong martial arts pastiche designed to keep us in our seats long enough so we can see the advertisement (also known as a trailer) for Matrix Revolutions after what have to be the world's longest credits. I wonder if it's too late to demand a refund...