Month: November 2016

Arrival (2016)

After an unbelievably tense traffic sequence on film, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was a big runner in the Oscars last year. And this year he’s back with the highly anticipated science-fiction thriller Arrival. And it’s no surprise with his talent that there are already smatterings of Oscar contention for Villeneuve again.

This time it’s Amy Adams taking the central role as Dr. Louise Banks, a top class linguist enlisted to help decipher a message from these weird pebble-shaped objects hanging in the sky. But already within the five minutes, Villeneuve and Adams have already broken our hearts in scenes that are uncannily similar to the opening sequence in Up.

The way in which the pebble-ships are introduced is interesting, as Dr. Banks is distant to the seemingly important news that has everyone crowded around the television screen and actively disrupting her class on Portuguese. She brushes off their existence until she is asked to help decipher their mysterious message by Colonel Weber (Forest Whittaker) with the help of Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a theoretical physicist.

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Rather than immediately focusing on the aliens inside the pebble-ship, Villeneuve focuses on the overcoming of the language barrier between the crew and the heptapods (aliens). Villeneuve also cleverly includes the processes of learning language, as Dr. Banks breaks down her plan to Colonel Weber who seems less than convinced with her approach.

When it comes to end of the filmmaking calendar, questions regarding a films Oscar contention begin to enter the fray and these questions about Arrival are 100% justified. Villeneuve is proving again he has the chops, but alas has been left empty-handed thus far. This could very well change with Arrival. It has to be said that Amy Adams is in strong contention with her strong and believable performance as Louise Banks, as the focus never shifts from her character she maintains the narrative superbly.

Although he has previously shown a knack for creating unbelievably tense sequences in Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve managed to incorporate some awe-inspiring shots that were simply wonderful to watch unfold on screen, including the below shot of the pebble-like ship in Montana. This only adds to the enjoyment on screen and is replicated when we take a trip around the globe to see the other ships.

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The story is excellently fed through the screen and left me wanting to know more about everything to do with the films backstory from the linguistics, to the heptapods and to the other eleven pebble-ships and their positioning. How close the film is kept to the original material by Ted Chiang, I do not know, but it has left me eager and wanting to know more.

Although a big chunk of this film revolves around these heptapod beings, it doesn’t feel like it’s closely fixated on this subject, as Villeneuve manages to capture the effect this task has on Dr. Banks but also the inability of the World’s top nations coming together at a crucial hour. Amy Adams as Dr. Banks pulls in an excellent performance as she becomes wearier and increasingly unsettled with flashbacks of the opening scenes. It’s a believable performance as she remains headstrong in her approach and drives the film forward as the central figure.

As the twelve ships converse with their countries counterparts, information is withheld between the countries, when it should be shared and with it comes a sense of suspicion driven by the Chinese. The Russians begin to follow suit and take aim at the ships, causing disarray between everyone all over the world.

Arrival is a delight because everything in this story works and leaves us wanting more throughout the elaborate unwinding of the true nature of these ships and why they have arrived. This unravelling also brings forth a rather interesting twist in the narrative that really works and fits superbly. I have often found science-fiction plot twists weak, or laughable, but with Arrival it fitted perfectly tonally and narratively with the story.

Villeneuve has continued his powerful filmmaking exploits with Arrival and is quickly becoming one of the top directors to look out for. Sicario was a phenomenal piece of film, and Arrival could’ve have easily been two hours longer and still been just as enjoyable. As it stands at around an hour and forty minutes, it’s of perfect length and I wouldn’t be surprised come Oscar nominations if Arrival is the hot tip.

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Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

To potentially combat the domination of Marvel and DC in the film market, there has recently been a ‘boom’ in films adapted from mystery thriller novels such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Child 44 and Before I Go To Sleep. The latter seemingly fell by the wayside as Gone Girl came out around the same time as Before I Go To Sleep.

Memory loss being at the centre of a film is always difficult to convey and has only rarely come out excellently, the best example being Momento. Before I Go To Sleep has memory loss at the very centre of this tale, as Nicole Kidman takes on this challenging role of Christine.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) is a forty-year old woman who wakes up every morning not remembering anything. (Think 50 First Dates, but way more serious)
She wakes up in strange surroundings, and next to a strange man. Instantly she freaks out, only to be assured by the strange man that he is her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). He also informs Christine that she was in a car accident ten years earlier, which resulted in her memory loss.

It’s always difficult to construe memory loss convincingly on film, as the two most popular films to contain this are Momento and 50 First Dates and they are very, very different films. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth shoulder this immeasurable task of convincingly act it out.

Not only would Kidman and Firth have to act out such a tough task, but the way Rowan Joffe has to keep the story interesting enough without ruining it within the first ten minutes. Having the inclusion of Dr. Nasch at this early stage and the small-scale cast keeps the story at the centre of the film, and of course interesting as it plays immediately on Christine’s suspicions about everyone.

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Dr. Nasch manages to convince Christine that he has been treating her for some months on her accident. He gifts her a video camera to keep a video diary and helping her remember information from the day previous. As the days and the treatment continues, Christine learns more, including that it wasn’t a car accident, but rather a brutal attack where she was left for dead.

As the film bores into it’s hour and a half runtime, Joffe keeps dripping other essences into the film and making us second-guess and triple-guess our assumptions made initially. And of course, what is a mystery thriller without a tense sense or two? Joffe plays out one of these scenes beautifully, gripping you to the very core.

I believe this comes down the culmination of the score, the setting and of course the acting from Kidman and Firth. Before I Go To Sleep manages to sustain the effectiveness of this memory loss through Nicole Kidman, but the surrounding Kidman with Firth and Mark Strong make up an excellent small-scale cast.

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Unfortunately for Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl outgunned it as they came out at similar points, yet it didn’t deserve to be as it manages to hold its own for the 90 minute runtime. Joffe creates a wonderfully tense piece of filmmaking, which is only helped on by the intimate cast of Kidman, Firth and Strong.

Before I Go To Sleep is deserving of being included in more conversations when compared to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (two films seemingly being compared with each other at this moment in time) as its beautifully tense and expertly acted out by the cast. Joffe manages to expertly dangle this tense thriller involving memory loss throughout the story with precision and still making it an enjoyable film to watch.

Trollhunter (2010)

The Blair Witch Project kicked off the found footage filming style, but in fact was quite a terrifying starting point for me. It wasn’t until Cloverfield that my fondness for found footage films took off and Trollhunter all but reinforces this feeling.

Trollhunter combines the wonderful world of fantasy with this found-footage style of shooting to create a film that plays on the myths surrounding trolls. And in a true ode to The Blair Witch Project, the film opens with three amateur filmmakers on a hunt.

Although The Blair Witch Project takes on a very different stance, the three Norwegian filmmakers are on the hunt for a mysterious bear poacher, who has angered many of the local hunters. Trollhunter immediately has that authentic feel with the amateur camerawork and the crew’s seemingly mismatched approach to the filming of their documentary.

Before the trio are introduced, the film beckons an ominous message as it professes the forthcoming footage is ‘all real’, but what isn’t ominous is the opening 10 minutes as the crew discuss the aforementioned bear poacher. Following the documentary exposé style, they interview a select number of bear hunters and a member of the Norwegian Wildlife Board, discussing their anger towards this possible ‘poacher’.

As you’re watching this, you begin to wonder where this ‘Troll Hunter’ element comes into it as the trio of amateur filmmakers – continuing this exposé fashion – tail the mysterious bear poacher, Hans. (Otto Jespersen)

André Øvredal manages to capture the beauty of the Norwegian countryside as Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) tries to keep the sound editor Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and camera operator Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) motivated in their pursuit of an ever-elusive interview with Hans. If anything the beauty of Norway and the intriguing characters of Hans keeps the film ticking over for the opening 20 or so minutes.

This is until Hans is trailed to an abandoned country trail and seemingly evades the group. Hearing a low-grumble of sorts over the boom, the trio investigate the woods to be met by Hans screaming “Troll!” as he runs past them.

What worked really well with The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield were the out-of-focus framings and the snapshots of the monster and/or the surrounding area, instilling that tense feeling.

Trollhunter adapts this perfectly when focusing on the trolls throughout the film, whether trying to capture the sheer size of a troll, or build that sense of anticipation for the reveal of a different troll. Øvredal manages to incorporate this change of story perfectly as a very-weary looking Hans decides to spill the beans about him working for a covert operation called the Troll Security Service.

The amateur camera crew decide to join Hans on his journey, deciding that a documentary about Trolls would be more interesting than a bear poacher (Obviously). Øvredal managed to bring these fictitious characters to life excellently, whilst incorporating the mythology surrounding trolls, such as the smelling of a Christian blood. But what was astonishing was that he could bring this intriguing story to life on a relatively small-scale budget.

Øvredal manages to maintain this amazement throughout the story and keeps it interesting for the 100-minute runtime, with fresh approaches and always building to the finale. I think Trollhunter benefits most from the story, as rather than having Hans go around keeping the trolls in check, he has an empathic approach towards the beasts and wants to discover what’s driving them out their own territories.

Again, this is all down on a relatively small budget and maintains a believable stance on the existence of trolls (as believable as it could be of course) and keeping the cast a small close-knit team saves the confusion, especially when it comes the handling of this ‘found-footage’ style of filmmaking.

As the Danish filmmaking scene has produced one of my favourite actors in Mads Mikkelsen and directors in Nicholas Winding Refn, I’ve never been eexposed to the rest of Scandinavian filmmaking as a whole. However, Trollhunter has shown that this trend of superb filmmaking hasn’t just settled in Denmark but the rest of Scandinavia with Øvredal creating one of the better monster films in recent memory.