Movie reviews: Amy Adams supplies emotional core of alien invasion film 'Arrival'
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Amy Adams in a scene from 'Arrival.' (Jan Thijs / Paramount Pictures)
Published Friday, November 11, 2016 6:30AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 16, 2016 1:42PM EST
ARRIVAL: 3 ½ STARS
In “Arrival,” a new humanistic sci-fi film from future “Blade Runner” director Denis Villeneuve, Amy Adams plays a woman who sees life on a fractured timeline, like a Tarantino movie where the beginning is the end and the end is the start.
Adams is Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist recruited by the U.S. Military to communicate with giant alien heptapods—think Kang and Kodos from “The Simpsons”— who have landed in Montana and eleven other sites worldwide. Are they scientists, tourists or warriors?
“What do they want?” asks Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). “Where are they from?”
With voices that sound like a didgeridoo mixed with an out-of-tune electronic tuba and a written language that resembles “The Ring” logo, no answers are immediately forthcoming. Working with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) Banks slowly forms a bond with the multi-legged ETs. In return, she receives a gift from them that changes everything.
“War of the Worlds” this is not. Based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, this is an alien invasion film with more in common with the heady sci-fi of Andrei Tarkovsky and the crowd-pleasing emotionalism of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” It’s more about the importance of communication—“Language is the first weapon drawn in conflict.”—than alien technology or “Independence Day”-style Martian marauding. It’s a deliberately paced, contemplative film that suggests an alternative to the old ethos of shooting first and asking questions later. Questions are asked, few are answered, and the result is an intelligent but dreamy story that never lets the scene get in the way of the film’s emotional core.
That core is supplied by Adams. As Dr. Louise Banks, she dominates the movie. Everyone else, including Renner and Whitaker, are basically window dressing for a performance that bristles with wonder, sadness and yes, even scientific method. Banks may be methodical, but Adams isn’t. She wrings every bit of sentiment from a script that tries to balance its cool social accountability with a story that delves into the soul of its main character.
I can’t reveal more about how or why Banks deciphers the alien intentions. The film plays with timelines and by the time the end credits roll “Arrival” has offered the audience an explanation that is both spacey and grounded.
LOVING: 4 STARS
Imagine falling in love with someone, getting married and having a baby or two. For many people that is the dream, but for Richard and Mildred Loving it was a nightmare of racism and injustice.
Based on a true story, “Loving” begins with Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), an African-American woman, telling her white boyfriend Richard Loving that she is pregnant. The place is a small county in Virginia, the year is 1958 and because the state's anti-miscegenation laws made interracial marriage illegal, the pair skipped to neighbouring Washington, DC to tie the knot. “There’s less red tape there,” Richard says.
Soon, word spreads and the pair are arrested in the middle of the night, rousted from a deep sleep for the crime of being married. “You know better, don't you?” asks the Sheriff (Marton Csokas). “Maybe you don't.” In exchange for a one-year suspended sentence they either must divorce or leave the state and not return, together, for 25 years.
“All we got to do is keep to ourselves for a while and this will blow over,” says Richard.
Reluctantly they leave for DC, but when they return home to have their baby in secret they are arrested a second time. Told, “Cohabitating as man and wife is against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” the pair leave Virginia permanently. Years later, Mildred, inspired by the civil rights march on TV, writes a letter to Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney general, asking if he can have a look at their case. Kennedy forwards the letter to Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), a young American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, who formulates a risky plan to move the fight from a racist Virginia country court to the Supreme Court in a case that would alter the constitution of the United States. Richard eloquently and potently sums up the defence in one simple sentence: “Tell the judge I love my wife.”
“Loving” is an important slice of American history told in a quiet, heartfelt way. Director Jeff Nicholls doesn't clog up the story with dialogue. Instead, he follows the first rule of filmmaking, show me, don’t tell me. For instance, when Mildred and Richard leave Virginia for the less-than-bucolic DC, the looks on the actor’s faces tell the tale, no words required. He allows the performances to underscore the potency of the story. Watch the way Mildred and Richard respond to one another physically after the arrests. Their tentative public displays of affection shows the fear that comes along with being told your relationship is illegal and wrong. It’s subtle, beautiful acting.
In private they can be themselves. A recreation of a Life Magazine photo of the real couple sitting together, laughing, watching TV is charmingly realized. It’s warm and intimate, the very picture of a happy couple who have put their hardships aside for a fleeting moment.
“Loving” is an understated movie. Some have suggested it may have benefitted from a bit more anger, but that, for me, would feel like a betrayal to the characters who fight the good fight with dignity and love.
The movie is simultaneously a powerful look at a different time and, when it asks, “What is the danger to the state of Virginia from interracial marriage?” a timely and universal reminder that Loving v. Virginia was just one of many steps humanity has to take before everyone is afforded fundamental rights.
ALMOST CHRISTMAS: 3 STARS
It may be a warmer than usual November, but at the movie theatres, it’s already Christmas. It’s not a Christmas miracle, it’s a movie hoping to grab double digit grosses to go along with the month’s double-digit temperatures.
Danny Glover is Walter, the recently widowed patriarch of a large family. Retired and lonely he invites his four children, daughters Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and sons Christian (Romany Malco) and Evan (Jessie Usher) and the extended family home to Birmingham, Alabama for the holidays. “This is our first Christmas without your mother,” says Walter. “Just five days for you all to act like a family.” It’s not the twelve days of Christmas, it’s five fraught filled days as the family tries to get along. Cheryl and Rachel can barely stand being in the same room together for reasons neither of them can remember and Christian can’t seem to stop working long enough to enjoy the visit. “We’re not going to make it to Christmas are we?” “Not a damn chance,” sighs Aunt May (Mo’Nique).
“Almost Christmas” is like a Bollywood movie. There's action, tragedy, a dance number, comedy, romance, humour, infidelity and even a slightly risqué bit of slapstick. It has something for everyone and if you can hold on tight as it rockets between heartwarming and humourous with the speed of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve, you’ll have a pretty good time.
It's barely a movie in the strictest sense. It's more a collection of moments strung together as old ghosts rear their ugly heads during the few festive days the family spends under the same roof. It’s episodic, but melodramatically likable as it careens toward a funny and over-the-top dinner scene that involves everything from hurt feelings and guns to Danny Glover's most famous line from “Lethal Weapon.” The siblings—and everyone else—learn that, despite their differences, they are stronger together than individually.
Not that you need to be told that. The story telegraphs everything that's going to happen—there are no surprises under this Christmas tree—but does so in a way that is as sweet as the Potato Pie the family enjoys at dinner.