Tag Archives: denis villeneuve

“Arrival” a poignant sci-fi experience

There’s something to be said for a good sci-fi film. Many people confuse fantasy and horror with sci-fi. “Star Wars” is fantasy. “The Thing” is horror. “Alien” is horror. Science fiction examines the unknown, tying our natural world and technology to the human condition. It usually asks more questions than it answers. It engages us in the way it views mystery and the cosmos. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is science fiction. “Interstellar” is science fiction. “Ex Machina” is science fiction. And “Arrival” is science fiction, and darn good science fiction at that.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer off a story (Story of Your Life) by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called by the United States government when several alien spaceships descend across the world. Banks must find a way to establish communication with them before the rest of the world goes haywire and carnage ensues.

Language and communication are the foundation for how Adams investigates these creatures and it is thrilling as we view her trying to establish contact. As countries such as Russia and China escalate their paranoia about why the aliens have arrived, the pressure mounts on Adams to figure out what exactly it is the aliens want. To help us? To harm us? One wrong symbol can change the entire course of mankind.

It is especially refreshing to see a film with aliens that is not preoccupied with leveling cities and giving us explosions and battles. “Arrival” examines real-world reality in its science fiction setting. What would China, Russia and the United States do in the event of alien landing? What would the common masses do? How would the pressures build? To see such thought put into a motion picture is nearly a miracle nowadays.

Jeremy Renner as Ian and Forrest Whitaker as Colonel Weber give strong performances, but it is Adams who steals the show. She is able to convey so much with just her eyes, finding the perfect balance between awe, fear and determination.

The ending is near pure cinematic bliss as all the different pieces come together; Louise’s personal journey, what the aliens want, her visions, Ian’s journey, the paranoia of China, whether Louise’s risk-taking was the right move. Without giving anything away, it is the perfect ending of answering some questions, asking a few more and giving us the emotional impact we deserve from a good science fiction film.

 

‘Sicario’ a taut thriller

Often lost among all the talk about terrorism, gang violence and mass shootings is the fact that the United States is still fighting a drug war. Billions of federal and state dollars are being used to keep cocaine, heroin and other narcotics off our streets, and it has largely been forgotten in comparison to other policy matters. “Sicario”, directed by Denis Villeneuve, illuminates how that fight is taking place mostly in the shadows and without due process of law.

Idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited to a special CIA task force by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) after an IED kills two officers at her crime scene. She finds Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) also on the task force, but something seems off about him. After a confrontation in Juárez against the cartel, Kate discovers that the team is operating outside of the law as they seek to take down the architect of the fiasco, Manuel Diaz.

The film builds off the knowledge that the viewer already understands the roots of the drug trade. It expects you to view it with seasoned eyes. That makes the tension stronger as you know what will happen to naive Kate as you witness the lawlessness and disorder of the region. Chases, gun fights and executions are portrayed expertly. Blunt and del Toro shine. The film is an excellent example of setting the stage, laying the trap and delivering high quality action set pieces. It is not the most original film, but it delivers what it promises.

The film struggles a bit by trying to tie everything into its message of violence leading to more violence and America instigating carnage, but the film needn’t have bothered. The message comes through clear enough through the story itself. The destruction of innocence is a story that will never cease to interest us.