Author Archives: theswitz

The Wave – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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I’m not normally a fan of “disaster” films, but for some reason The Wave struck me as something worth watching.  A town on a lake, by a mountain in Norway sits ten minutes from disaster at any given moment.  The mountain is unstable, and there have been landslides before, the rock tumbling into the lake below which causes a wave that floods the town.  Around the turn of the century it happened and a tsunami wiped out the town.  The scientists know it will happen again.


Krisitan (Kristoffer Joner) is a geologist who has just taken a new job in another city and is preparing to move with his family (wife Idun played by Ane Dahl Torp and his children Sondre and Julia played by Jonas Hoff Oftebro and Edith Haagenrud-Sande) to somewhere inland and leave his friends who work at the station that monitors the mountain.  On his last day, after the cake has been eaten, and his desk cleared out, Kristian and the team notice an abnormal reading.  The team pass it off as being within safety limits, but promise the concerned Kristian they will continue to monitor it.  Naturally this wouldn’t be much of a movie if the main characters all move out of town safely…. In a bit of a cliche, Kristian does worry about the data and returns to the station even though his job is done.  Disaster does strike, the readings get worse, and the mountain is in motion.  With his wife working her last shift at a hotel with their son in tow, and Kristian and their young daughter saying goodbye with one final sleep in their old house, the race is on as the alarm sounds and the entire town has ten minutes to get to higher ground and escape the imminent wave.


I think I enjoyed this Norwegian disaster-thriller because everything seemed plausible.  The characters were smart but not supermen.  Kristian was a very intelligent geologist who used his training and knowledge to detect and diagnose the shift in the mountain, but he didn’t (and couldn’t) do anything to stop it.  Idun was a strong and intelligent woman, who kept her head and evacuated her hotel guests but got trapped saving her son.  These really seemed like real people doing what they were supposed to do in the event of this disaster that hey knew loomed above them.  They didn’t find a way to save the town, they didn’t save everybody, they didn’t escape without a scratch.  The town was devastated, lots of people died (including characters that were developed so we would have an emotional attachment to them), and lots of people were injured.  The disaster itself wasn’t caused by anything overly exaggerated like Godzilla, or an asteroid, or explosions, or mining, or any other sort of “man shouldn’t be doing this” situation, this was just caused by nature.


The film does a good job showing us what sort of people choose to live and visit this town that is known to be in a “danger zone”, and they are really just regular people, not thrill seekers or anything like that, but regular everyday people, living their lives but also living in a heightened state of alert.  The Wave also does an excellent job building the suspense before the climactic disaster occurs.  The movie really focuses on the characters and their development rather than dazzling action scenes which makes the whole thing work.  The cinematography and the effects were very good, as was the score.  Director Roar Uthaug did an excellent job making us care about the family, and masterfully broke the story down to three acts: calm before the storm, the wave, and the results.  I really enjoyed the cast, and it was nice to see that the family involved were just a normal family, not downtrodden or divorcing or angry, just normal.  They didn’t need a gimmick attached to them so the audience would care about them.  Kristoffer Joner was excellent as the likeable guy at work, and as a dedicated family man.  Ane Dahl Torp equalled him as his hardworking wife.  I really did enjoy her, and I knew she looked familiar.  I had to look it up, but Dahl Torp was in Dead Snow, the 2009 Nazi-Zombie flick!


Bottom Line: This could almost be an anti-Hollywood disaster film.  Much better than the effect filled spot-fests we’ve been fed before.

Standoff – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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A young girl nicknamed Bird (Ella Ballentine) is taking nature pictures while visiting her parent’s grave at the cemetery when she witnesses a gangland style execution at a nearby burial.  The priest, the widow, her bodyguards are all killed by a masked assassin (Laurence Fishburne), who Bird manages to photograph without his mask on.  Naturally the professional killer has a strict “no witnesses” policy when it comes to his work, chases the girl (killing her aunt’s boyfriend along the way) who runs to a lonely house occupied by Carter (Thomas Jane).  Confused, the former soldier takes a bullet in the leg as the killer approaches.  Carter’s wife had left him after tragedy befell the family, and even though he had turned to alcohol and was actually readying to kill himself, he is determined to protect this little girl who ended up on his front step.  Carter manages to blast the killer with one of his two shotgun shells as he herds Bird upstairs.  Both wounded, killer and guard; both armed, one at the base of the stairwell and one at the top of the stairs.  Standoff.


Nearly the entire film takes place in Carter’s house on the stairwell.  Very limited locations, an extremely small cast, probably a limited budget, but Standoff really delivered.  The tension was incredible, almost claustrophobic at times.  The entire cast was spectacular, but you can’t help but notice parallels between Jane’s Carter and his Frank Castle from 2004’s The Punisher.  The storyline was really quite simple, but it still kept me on the edge of my seat.  You might think that an eighty minutes of two guys shouting at each other up and down a staircase would be tedious, but there really wasn’t a wasted minute and any slower segments were filled with suspense.  The psychological battle between the two men was fantastic and really kept the story rolling.  Both Fishburne and Jane are very good actors, and a small piece like this, with its restrictions really highlights how strong they are. 

Standoff was intelligent, and a really good, solid suspense thriller.


Bottom Line: It reminded me at times of a western.

A Monster Calls – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

A Monster Calls


It wasn’t exactly what I expected, it turned out to be better.  A Monster Calls is about a young boy who has to find a way to deal with his mother’s impending death from terminal cancer, and how his imagination helps him to cope.  The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona and based on the book by Siobhan Dowd which she began writing while she herself was suffering from cancer, but passed away before she could finish it. The book was finished by Patrick Ness who also wrote the screenplay for the film.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is the boy who’s “too old to be a child, and too young to be a man”, but is forced to become one or the other as his mother (Felicity Jones) suffers through a terminal cancer diagnosis.  The disease is rotten and evil, and what better to fight evil than a monster?  Conor doesn’t exactly call the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) at first, but it appears to him late one night when he should be asleep, and it comes ripping away the wall of his room, telling Conor that it will come to him three times and tell him three truths, and on the monster’s fourth visit Conor must tell him a story and it must be true, or he will be eaten by the towering mass of branches and leaves formed into a human shape.  The stories each parallel what is going on in Conor’s life at the time.  Each night the monster appears at 12:07.

The first story:

An old king who’s lost his entire family save a young grandson remarries a beautiful young woman many claim to be a witch. He dies before the young prince has come of age, leaving the step grandmother as regent. She rules well and fairly, but, not wanting to hand the kingdom over, plots to marry the prince and remain queen.
The prince, who has a lover, runs away with his chosen bride, planning to flee to the neighbouring kingdom. There they will marry and wait out the time until he’s of age to claim the throne. They stop and sleep under the yew tree (the monster), but in the morning, the young woman is dead. Murdered. The shocked young prince covered in blood.
He tells the villagers who find them that the queen, a witch, must have done it out of jealousy and so he would be tried and hanged for murder, allowing her to keep his kingdom. He also tells the yew tree something which calls the monster awake for vengeance.
Enraged, the commoners rally around the prince to storm the castle, and the monster follows. They capture the queen and condemn her to burn at the stake.
The monster arrives to snatch her from the fire, and carry her away to a far off land where she lives out the rest of her life.
While disagreeable and a witch, she was not the one who had killed the girl. The prince had murdered her under the yew tree in order to inspire his people to back him into overthrowing the queen.

The story somewhat relates to Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who seems like a witch to the boy, with her rules and expectations of him, but who hasn’t really done anything wrong to him.

The second story:

A greedy, ill-tempered apothecary who follows the old traditions and beliefs constantly pesters a parson to allow him to cut down the yew tree in the church yard and use it for medicinal ingredients.
The apothecary becomes less and less popular and is nearly ruined, aided by his own foul nature and the parson’s active condemning from the pulpit.
When a sickness sweeps the land and many die, the parson goes to the apothecary and asks him to save the lives of his two ill daughters after all other resources are exhausted.
When the apothecary asks why he should help a man who has turned people away from his skills and denied him the yew tree, his best source of healing ingredients, the parson begs. The parson promises to give him the yew tree, and deliver the parishioners to him as patients. In response to the parson’s promise to revoke his beliefs and give up everything if only his daughters are healed, the apothecary says that he cannot help him and the girls die.
The monster awakens from the yew tree to destroy the parson’s house and raze it to the ground as punishment.
While the apothecary was a nasty, greedy man, he was a healer and would have saved many, including the girls, if the parson had given him the yew tree when first asked. The parson, however, was a man who lived off of belief, but had none of his own and changed beliefs as it suited him and convenience. His disbelief of the apothecary’s skill caused many to die, even his children. The healing traditions followed by the apothecary require belief in order to work; without the parson’s, the apothecary was unable to treat the two girls.

At the conclusion of this story Conor is destroying his grandmother’s sitting room, her keepsakes and her treasured clock.


The third story:

There was a man who was invisible because no one ever saw him. Tired of this, he summoned the monster to ensure no one forgot to see him again. The monster made them see, but there are harder things than being invisible.

As this story ends, Conor has severely beaten the school bully.  I have to admit I loved seeing the bully getting beaten up by Conor, and being chased by Conor/the monster.  I really don’t like bullies.

The final story:

His mother has been pulled from a cliff by a terrifying creature from the darkness below and Conor must hold on to her hand to save her from being dragged down by the creature. Eventually, his grip fails and the creature claims his mother.

The final story is Conor’s truth to the monster, and he relates his nightmare to the monster.  Conor is forced to confess the truth: he loosened his grip and dropped her on purpose.  He could have held on, but he let go in order to stop the pain of having to hold on.  Conor’s desire to let her go and drop her is his secret wish that both his mother’s and his own suffering will end. Ultimately the monster comforts him, revealing that its purpose has been to heal him as his mother dies at 12:07.

First off, there were great performances by everyone involved.  Neeson was great as the voice of the monster, and managed to convey every emotion needed.  Fear, horror, love, compassion.  He was humourous, he was serious, he was perfectly cast.  Felicity Jones is fairly new to me.  I think I’ve only seen her in Rogue One, but she was excellent as well as the dying mother, giving a very powerful but subtle performance.  (I really liked her in Rogue One too, and realize I missed reviewing that a long time ago….) (and I double checked, forgot she was in The Theory of Everything! oops!)  Bringing even more power to the cast was Sigourney Weaver as Conor’s grandmother, but Conor himself, played by Lewis MacDougall really carried the film.  He gave a strong performance that showed a great mix of maturity and innocence, strength and vulnerability.

I loved the animation they used each time the monster told a story.  I’m really enjoying movies like this and like The Little Prince that are employing multiple styles of animation.  Visually the film was fantastic, not just the depiction of the monster, but the lighting of the rooms, the telling of the tales, and really everything else.  A lovely film all around that can be enjoyed by everyone I think.


Bottom Line: I got the story texts from Wikipedia, but am strongly considering picking up the original book now too…

The Accountant – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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It took me months to watch The Accountant, and an equally long time to finally review it!  Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, on the surface an accountant and a math savant, but underneath he’s something more.  When a low level accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a major robotics and prosthetics company discovers some discrepancies in their financial records, the head of the company (John Lithgow) brings in Wolff to “uncook” the books and perform a forensic audit on his company to figure out where funds are being leaked to and by whom.  Wolff is a highly functioning autistic math savant so solving the numbers case is simple to him; much simpler than dealing with the staff of the facility, especially Kendrick’s character Dana who shows genuine interest in the problem and wants to help.  But Wolff prefers to act as a “lone wolf” and it takes barely a day for him to confirm the findings and get a lead on who might be behind them.  As he gets closer to the truth though, the suspects start dying.  Unknown to his employers, Wolff is not just an accountant, he’s also a professional assassin who likes to take matters into his own hands when he sees a wrong that needs to be righted.  As the plot thickens Wolff is brought into conflict with another assassin hired by the person responsible for stealing the company funds.  Unbeknownst to Wolff, the other assassin is his estranged brother Brax (Jon Bernthal).  Naturally the two meet in the film’s climax, but what will be the results?


Very few actors are as polarizing to audiences as Ben Affleck.  He’s one of those actors who it seems people either love or hate.  I’m probably in the minority here, because I’m more “middle of the road” with him.  I haven’t seen that many of his films, but of those that I did see, there were some I liked, and some I didn’t.  I really liked him in Gone Girl where I think he did a tremendous job of making me forget he was Ben Affleck.  I didn’t really like him in Argo, where I found his directing solid, but his own performance very bland, and very “Ben Affleck”.  Here though I enjoyed him.  His performance was confident, and once again, he didn’t seem too “Ben Affleck” for the part.  He clearly did his research when it came to playing an autistic character, and he was very expressive in his performance.  The action scenes too were very good, and kept me entertained and engaged.  I really like Anna Kendrick, and she was her usual fun and slightly quirky self in the role as a junior accountant, but she may have been a little underutilized, and at the same time a little forced into the script.  J.K. Simmons as a director at the Treasury Department who has been on Wolff’s trail for years (but not exactly for the reasons we expect) was excellent as always.  I’ll go out of my way to watch any movie with J.K. in it, no matter how small his role.  A real treat in The Accountant was Jon Bernthal as Brax.  I had only known him as Shane from the first few seasons of The Walking Dead, and didn’t really have an opinion of him one way or another.  Here, he really shined, and I don’t think the part could have been any better cast.  I’ve heard good things about his performance as the Punisher in the Marvel Netflix Daredevil series which I believe has earned him a spin-off solo series, so I look forward to watching those too.


Quite entertaining, and it threw a few twists at you along the way as the suspense and the mystery deepened.  Who was eliminating the fraud suspects?  Wolff?  Brax?  It wasn’t 100% clear until the end.  What were Agent King’s interests in Wolff?  Did they have a past?  Who was the computerized voice that appeared to be working for Wolff, but was also seemed to be giving tips to the Treasury Department?  All these led to a very solid action-thriller….which is nothing what real accounting is like I’m told.


Bottom Line: The final shootout scenes reminded me a lot of John Wick, which is never a bad thing.

Miss Sloane – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Miss Sloane


Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is a powerful, workaholic D.C. lobbyist who uses every trick in the book to achieve her goals.  But her impressive success record, is on the line when she switches sides and leaves one agency to work for another. She fights for the causes she believes in, and the causes she believes she can win for.  Originally she and her team were selected by her boss (Sam Waterston) to fight for gun activists and prevent a bill from being passed, but she is approached by the owner of a smaller, far less prestigious agency (Mark Strong) to fight against her former firm and fight for the gun control bill.  Bringing some of her team with her and joining her new team the lies, deceit, back room dealings and shenanigans of lobbying and political intrigue unfold brilliantly on the screen before us.


Wow, this was an incredible film.  It clearly had a great ensemble cast but Jessica Chastain stood out and was simply fantastic.  She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, but sadly overlooked at the Oscars.  I’d say that her performance here was every bit as good and as worthy as her previous Oscar nominations for The Help and Zero Dark Thirty.  At first I was a little leery of the film’s runtime of 2 hours 10 minutes, but it was paced perfectly and there wasn’t a wasted minute or slow scene on the screen.  There were twists and turns as you would expect, but just when I though I had Miss Sloane figured out, she bobbed and weaved away from my expectations with tremendous results.  The climax of the film was definitely something I did not see coming, and I really do love that about this film, and films in general.  I love to be surprised when I watch movies, which hasn’t happened a whole lot lately, so Miss Sloane was a special treat.


Bottom Line: A very interesting look at the complex system that is lobbying in the United States.  The film isn’t really as pro gun or anti gun as you might think, rather it’s all about the corruption and dishonesty of politics.  The film could have been arguing about the MacGuffin bill or Johnson rods and been just as effective.

Moana – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Disney’s Moana was nominated for Best Animated Feature, and I think it was very much a “classic” Disney film.  The story was essential a fable, as the old Disney stories were; it had clever humour; plenty of catchy songs; spotless animation and even openly stated in the film that if the female lead wears a dress and has an animal sidekick she’s a princess.


Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian island.  Their people stay close to their island, and never venture out past the reef that harbours them, for out beyond the reef the world has been cursed and is plunging into darkness.  A long time ago the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti which unleashed Te Ka, a fire demon who struck down Maui and his magical fishhook and brought the darkness to the world.  Moana’s people seemed safe, but when their fishermen bring back no fish, and their crops start to die, it appears the darkness has reached their island too.  From a tale passed on by her grandmother, Moana learns that Maui is the only one who can defeat Te Ka and return the heart to Te Fiti (which Moana’s grandmother happens to have).  Learning that her people are actually descended from wayfaring voyagers and not sheltered farmers and fishermen as she has been led to believe, Moana steals a boat that was hidden in a series of island caves and sets out beyond the reef to find Maui and save the world, with Hei Hei….a very dumb rooster as her animal sidekick.  Braving challenges, defeating monsters and embracing her destiny on their way, Maui and Moana set off to return the heart.


As I said, this one was lots of fun.  I particularly enjoyed Moana reminding Maui how to be a hero, and how she turned him to her side.  When first she meets him, he is just a selfish person, but he is also very dejected.  Ever since he lost his magic fishhook he can no longer shapeshift into animal forms.  Moana helps Maui recover it, which immediately returns his confidence; and Maui teaches Moana to sail the seas like her people did generations ago.  The two do develop a friendship, and would willingly sacrifice themselves for each other as they finally face the lava demon in their quest to save Te Fiti and save the world.  As I think I’ve mentioned before, the “returning hero” storyline is one of my favourites, so I really enjoyed that part of Moana.  Once Maui got his “powers” back, there was some pretty good humour as he got used to shapeshifting again.  And we got to see the true heroic demigod in action once he worked out all the kinks.  Moana herself saved the day in the end with the tried and true “brains over brawn”, as she had completed her own journey of self discovery.


Very fun, quite funny, quite musical, and they did a very good job animating water which is always a difficult task.  If you’re in the mood for a nice light bit of myth, fable and storytelling, you can’t go wrong.


Bottom Line: I think I liked this more than Zootopia…

Hell or High Water – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Another of the films that was up for Best Picture this year, Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who set out to rob some banks, but are being tracked by soon to be retired Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges.  Tanner (Foster) is a career criminal, and recently released from prison.  Toby (Pine) is the “good” brother but he teams up with Tanner to rob a series of banks to pay off the various liens against their family farm, monies owed to the very same bank chain they are robbing.  On the side of the law is Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) a cranky, old Texas Ranger who delights in the chase almost as much as he does insulting his half-Comanche, half-Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) with as many racial stereotypes and slurs as he can think of.  Despite this, Hamilton is a good cop and good at his job, soon he and Alberto are on the trail of a pair of mysterious bank robbers.  The bank robbing brothers are also good at their job, laundering their money in a casino across state lines but each robbery gets more and more dangerous as the take, the stakes and the violence all increase.


This was a very good heist movie (which I always enjoy) and it had a good dramatic core story.  Hell or High Water was very well acted, and Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  His character was humourous, intelligent,  and a great foil to the violent, and erratic Tanner.  Toby was also a great character, and also a clever opposite to his brother.  Though their reasons are leaning towards noble, the brothers’ methods certainly are not, but it does make the whole film a little grey, at times I didn’t really know who to root for.  At times I wanted the brothers to get caught (they were the “bad guys” after all) and at others I really wanted to see them get away with their scheme, and beat the bank.  The film did a really good job showing the poverty and the emptiness in those small Texas towns, which also kind of helped feed the conflicted feelings I had towards the robbers and the banks.


Full of action, full of drama, brimming with interesting characters, dark humour, and an engaging purpose behind the plot.  I really had a good time with this film!


Bottom Line: Remember how I questioned how Michelle Williams could be nominated for Best Supporting Actress with minimal screen time?  Jeff Bridges’ nomination made perfect sense to me, because he was in roughly half the film.

Manchester By The Sea – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Lee Chandler is a handyman working in the Boston area who gets the call that his brother has died in nearby Manchester, the town they both grew up in.  Lee goes back to settle his brother’s affairs which unbeknownst to him, include becoming guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  There are reasons Lee left Manchester, one of which is his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the emotional reasons why she is his ex-wife.  Now Lee is forced to return to the town, family and memories he left behind.


The movie felt very real to me, just like a slice of somebody’s everyday life.  Lee falls asleep on the couch and burns the spaghetti sauce; he has to drop off and pickup his nephew from school, from band practice, and from his dates; he has to deal with his brother’s business; and he has to sort out his life whether it is in Manchester or not.  The routine, day to day things were part of the movie, which I liked.  Affleck was pretty good in the lead, good enough to win the Best Actor Oscar.  Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which surprises me because even though she was very good in the film, she was only on the screen for maybe fifteen minutes.  Is there no minimum time requirement to be nominated for a supporting role?


While the movie did feel very real, it also felt very slow at times.  I suppose life doesn’t always move at the quickest pace, but I like my movies to move a little faster than the everyday.  It took about three quarters of the movie for me to really become invested in these characters, and finally once I was hooked, the movie ended.  There was no real resolution to things, you don’t really know the characters’ futures, life just keeps on going, but it felt like the story ended mid-paragraph.  A good story leaves you wanting more, and I really did want more but I think that was because I wanted closure to the characters.  Was I a little disappointed with the ending?  Yes.  Did I enjoy the film for the entire run?  No.  But, once they revealed a few key plot points, the preceding hours of the film suddenly became a lot more enjoyable to me.  Definitely worth watching, but I’d say be prepared for a slow burn, and some boredom before the film actually gets good.


Bottom Line: Casey Affleck mumbles a lot… Apparently that gets you an Oscar now.

Hacksaw Ridge – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who joined the army and served during the Battle of Okinawa.  Doss refuses to kill people and even refuses to carry a weapon, but he still receives the Medal of Honour without every having fired a shot. Doss thought it was his duty to serve his country, but his religion (he was a Seventh Day Adventist) clearly stated “thou shalt not kill”, so he enrolled as a medic.  Doss suffered through the hardships of basic training where his fellow soldiers hazed him to drum him out of their outfit, a court-marshal hearing because he would not pick up a weapon for any reason (including training), and finally to the battlefield where he witnessed the horrors of war first hand.


This was one of the better looking “war films” that I have seen.  The visuals were graphic, but authentic looking.  The sound was incredible.  The tone of the story and the pace of the action were both exceptional.  I’m not a big fan of Andrew Garfield (I really didn’t like his Spider-Man, or more specifically his Peter Parker), but he did a very good job playing Desmond Doss.  The performance came across as very real and very believable.  Teresa Palmer was very good as his wife Dorothy, as was Hugo Weaving as his father.  A pleasant surprise came in Vince Vaughn as Sgt. Howell who we first met at basic training.  Howell originally seemed to be against Doss, but you could see that he was really just acting out of concern for all the soldiers in his company.  He may not have agreed with Doss’ thoughts or morals but he did always treat Doss fairly, even if he was a little rough.  Eventually he does understand Doss and recognizes the courage inside him.


The film wasn’t perfect of course, there were a few liberties taken.  The film makes it appear as though Doss rescues 75 injured men in a single night, but in actuality this occurred over the course of several weeks and many battles.  I understand making that change, it does make the story flow better.  I though the film looked very authentic, but was disappointed to see that a lot of the battle “blood” appeared to be CGI.  I think for all the trouble they went to of making practical effects for the fighting and the stunts, they would have used old fashioned blood packets too.  Ah well, CGI blood is a lot cheaper than fake blood and squibs, and the film was done on a relatively small $40 million budget.  All in all, it was a very interesting look at a story I didn’t know anything about.


Bottom Line: It’s safe to say that Mel Gibson has had some problems over the last ten years or so, but Hacksaw Ridge shows that he is still one heck of a director.

Arrival – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Well, this one was a real treat!  It has been quite a while since I’ve seen a really good science fiction film, and Arrival really was good science fiction.  That being said, it won’t be for everyone.  Sure I loved the latest Star Wars movies but those are really more fantasy science fiction films this was in my opinion a true science fiction film.  It made you think, and if you paid attention, things were pretty obvious and made perfect sense.


The film opens with quick clips, almost like a dream, of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, from her birth through childhood to her premature death in adolescence from an incurable disease.   Twelve alien ships simultaneously arrive at different places on Earth.  One in America, one in Russia, one in China, one in the UK, one in Australia, and so forth.  Hovering above the planet, the ships silently wait as the armies and scientists of the world approach and study them.  In America, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician lead one of the teams attempting to make the historic “first contact”.  On-board the alien crafts they meet the seven-limbed aliens, who they call “heptapods”, and they begin attempt communication first by creating a written language.  The heptapods of course don’t look like we do, don’t sound like we do, don’t breath like we do, and seemingly don’t exist in dimensions the way that we do, so it is no surprise that their written language is nothing like ours, but eventually the team finds a way to decipher the circular symbols that they use for their words.  Naturally with humans being involved the process isn’t that easy, as some groups seek to attack the aliens rather than wait to see what they want.  It’s a race against the clock between militarized factions and science, with a “gift” promised by aliens as the reward and the fate of our planet hanging in the balance.  The film asks some pretty deep questions.  What is the gift?  Are the aliens giving each area only one-twelfth of their message to force humanity to unite and work together?  Why would the aliens offer a gift to Earth?  And why is Louise dreaming about a child she has never had?


I really enjoyed this one, it won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and was nominated for seven other categories including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I really think Amy Adams deserved a Best Actress nomination, but for some reason that didn’t happen, though she was nominated for the Golden Globe.  The characters were well written, and the acting was top notch all around, as was the sound and the visual effects.  The film draws some comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact, but never feels like it is a simple derivative.  The story unfolds rather well, and for a moment, it seems like there is a massive twist in the plot, but a moment later you begin to realize there really is no twist, but just the realization that the film had already explained itself to you.  Arrival was a smart and sophisticated sci-fi that even those who don’t love sci-fi will enjoy.


Bottom Line: Arrival was based on the Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” which was first published in 1998.  Also, I really wanted to talk about the reveal here, but it’s a massive spoiler, just watch it for yourself!

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