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Arrival – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Arrival40


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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Captain America 3: Civil War – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Captain America 3: Civil War4.5 Stars


This might as well have been Avengers 3, because it had everyone in it.  Steve Rogers’ Captain America (Chris Evans) battles Tony Stark’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) as the heroes pick sides after the fallout of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier collide.  They may have saved the world (from a menace they had a hand in creating), but many innocent lives were lost.  The governments of the world and the United Nations now want to keep the Avengers in check and hold them accountable.  Cap’s WWII friend Bucky (who had been brainwashed into becoming the cold war assassin the Winter Soldier) has been framed for a new crime by Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and the two teams of Avengers set out to find him.  Captain America’s team (Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man) are trying to save Bucky, while Iron Man’s team (Black Widow, War Machine, Black Panther, Vision and Spider-Man) try to bring Bucky to justice.


The film may have been a bit of fan pandering, but it was still well constructed and entertaining to me.  We got the introduction of a few new key characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther will soon have his own film, as will Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.  Both are important additions to the ever growing MCU, and I like the potential directions that both characters/films/franchises could take.  I will admit that I’m super excited for a “proper” Marvel Spider-Man film.  What I like about the Marvel films (the proper Disney Marvel films that is) is that they really do know how to pace and lay out a story.  The first act of Civil War was the build-up and the increasing tensions between the team, as well as the hunt and mystery over the Winter Soldier.  The second act was the big battle scene that brought all the characters together and the third act resolved it all, with Captain America and Iron Man temporarily setting aside their differences to fight the common enemy that had been pulling their strings for most of the movie.  Essentially the first act was character driven, the second action and then it circled back to a character driven story again.  All of it worked, and balanced the action with drama and humour.  I have heard some people say there was too much humour, but I disagree.  When you’re dealing with gods and monsters and knights and soldiers and heroes, all fantastical things, I prefer to keep it lighter.  I also think there was more than enough action to keep the story flowing so that I didn’t mind or really realize that it was two and a half hours long.


I really enjoyed all the characters.  With a pool of characters as deep as those in the MCU, you like to see the filmmakers play with “all the toys”, or at least all the toys that they’re allowed to use.  It’s really nice to see Spider-Man back where he belongs, alongside the biggest Marvel characters.  There’s no subtlety lost in naming the upcoming film Spider-Man Homecoming.  Getting a small taste of Spider-Man in the big airport fight scene was a treat that many Marvel fans didn’t think they’d ever get, what with the complicated stories behind which studios have the rights to which characters.  That whole airport scene was a lot of fun, even if it did condense a whole “superhero civil war” down to about fifteen minutes.


There were of course comparisons between Civil War and the other big super hero film of the year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I haven’t seen BvS yet, so I can’t judge it.  I know critics didn’t like it, and I know there is a HUGE divide among the fans both on that film in particular and on the differences between the Marvel and DC film universes.  Apparently it’s become a rule that Marvel fans can’t like DC films or vice versa.  I read quite a few user reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes where it seemed like DC fans were just bashing Marvel films (and fans) while the Marvel fans seemed pretty even tempered, though to be fair, I was just checking a Marvel film, so they would tend to be kinder on those pages.  It’s entirely possible on pages for DC films that Marvel fans are bashing those too.  I guess I can’t help but wonder why the two fandoms can’t just get along?  It seems like there are a lot of negative reviews out there just for the sake of negatively reviewing something!  I like reviews to be constructive and helpful.  If you liked previous Marvel films, I think you’ll most likely enjoy Captain America 3: Civil War.  Is it better than DC, and everything Batman v Superman wasn’t?  I don’t know, that’s not something I can say without having seen both films, that would be up to you to decide if you have watched them both.


Bottom Line: This was one of the few MCU films I missed seeing in theatres.  I think the only other one was Iron Man 3….

Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – ★ ★ ★ ★ Theatrical Review

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-IMAX-HR-1  4.0 Stars


It got a lot right, but also left a lot on the table.  Not to say that it got things wrong, but there were a lot of things that they could have done (and quite possibly should have done) but they didn’t.  You probably know the story, Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Avengers are back to fight Ultron (voiced by James Spader) an artificial robot intelligence that is planning to takeover the world by killing all the humans (the way Ultron plans to kill us all off is pretty darn creative I will admit!).  Ultron was accidentally created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and now he and his team are the only ones who can stop it, but along the way they’ll have to fight the remnants of Hydra (including the fearsome Baron Strucker) and the superpowered twins Wanda (the Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Quicksilver played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as well as legions of killer robots.

  •  The film started off with a bang, and had a nice comic book action fight scene to whet our appetites…then they had an Avengers dinner party at the Tower with heroes galore…  We got Falcon from Captain America: Winter Soldier (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) from the Iron Man franchise, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and of course the Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and even Stan Lee in his cameo.  This scene really wasn’t necessary.  It may have killed the energy of the opening and made the film fifteen minutes longer than it needed to be, but it did really make the film feel like a classic comic book to me.  The whole party could have been drawn by George Perez and written by Jim Shooter or Roger Stern or John Byrne…  In fact, one probably was.
  • Once the party was out of the way and the evil robots started attacking, things picked up and the pace only slowed down at one point when the Avengers had to go to ground and regroup.  More characters are introduced along the way as Ultron severs the hand of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who will likely become Klaw and a Black Panther villain at some point.  Minor Spoiler (but I want to gripe about it so I’m not hiding this one) We also learn that Ultron kills Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann).  I think that was a giant waste.  First, I don’t think they even called him “Baron”, he may have just been “Strucker”.  Second, for being the big bad guy who orchestrated the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and whatnot, he really wasn’t in the film that long, and he seemed to go out like a chump!  First the Avengers beat him and his goons quite easily, then Ultron kills him.  Ah well, c’est la vie, and such is the life (and death) of an arch villain I suppose.
  • My first disappointment with Avengers 2 was (spoiler again) that while there was a bit of a crossover with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, we didn’t get to see Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) on the big screen and reveal he’s still alive to the team.  Second, we had the setup, but we didn’t get “that” line.  If you’re a comic book fan like me, you know what I’m talking about.  How come we didn’t get Thor, beaten and bruised, confronting Ultron and delivering the classic line “Ultron. We would have words with thee.”
    Come on!  It’s classic.  Why wasn’t it in there?
  • The plot and cast advanced the Marvel Cinematic Universe quite well I thought, and set up the next batch of movies where the “big” stars may not be around.  Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans (and likely the rest of the cast) signed limited contracts, only three or four films, so they need to start planning things without Iron Man and Captain America and such.


Lots of action, lots of fun, and this time the comic book-esque quips were spread out more evenly in the film, as opposed to the first film, where Iron Man seemed to get all the good lines.  I will say that I enjoyed the sequel more than the first film, as the first Avengers just didn’t live up to the hype for me.


Bottom Line: they suckered me in with this one, and I freely admitted it to the remaining audience members in the theatre.  There was only one “after the credits” scene in this one, but I foolishly stuck around until the very end just in case…Sure, I may know that Zoe Whittaker was the second unit video operator but I also wasted time waiting for a second bonus scene.  Maybe there will be something on the DVD, but if you’re going to the theatre, after the first bonus bit, you can safely leave!

American Hustle – Blu Ray review 3/5 stars

Product Details3 Stars

Why did people love this film so much?  Was it David O. Russell?  Was it Christian Bale? Why was there so much hype around American Hustle?  I didn’t see anything that warranted what everyone was saying about it.  Bradley Cooper plays FBI Agent Richie DiMaso who arrests con artists and lovers Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams).  Neither are really “big fish” so he makes a deal with them that if they help him make four bigger arrests they go free.  They begin to go after another con artists but soon DiMaso gets obsessed with catching a big fish and sets the group’s sights on the mayor of Atlantic City (Jeremy Renner) who they set out to entrap and eventually get in over their heads.  The wild card in all of this is Rosenfeld’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who could derail all their plans.


In American Hustle David O. Russell unites his casts from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and delivers…an enjoyable film, but in my opinion, certainly not a great one.  American Hustle was nominated for ten Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Costume Design, Editing, Production Design, Original Screenplay, Directing and of course Best Picture.  So, with so many things clearly going right for it, why didn’t I love it?  As I was watching, I kept waiting for that moment when the film would rise to the height that countless people had elevated it to.  It never really happened.  Well, it almost happened once, but one scene does not a movie make.  Of the acting, all of the performances were good, but the only one I personally considered to be outstanding was Jennifer Lawrence who seemed to steal every scene she was in.  This girl is on fire!  (Hunger Games: Catching Fire pun unintended.)  The costume design was good but the only part of a wardrobe from thirty-odd years ago that really stood out to me was Amy Adams’ bra-less plunging neckline.  The production design also was good but didn’t seem “great” to me.  The nomination for best “original” screenplay seemed a little off to me given this film was based around some factual events, though Tarantino won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and that’s a giant leap of faith as nothing he writes is “original”…  The editing and directing could have been a bit better I thought, as the film ran too long.  This story did not need to be 2 hours and 18 minutes long.  If a few of the dance sequences and musical montages were taken out, perhaps it would have held my attention better.  Maybe too much time was spent on the costume designing and music but not enough on editing?


I love to watch the special features at home, though there have been fewer and fewer of them on DVD releases causing me to pickup a second Blu Ray player so I can maximize my viewing both upstairs in my living room and downstairs with my surround sound.  Tonight I was surprised that the only special features were a short (16 minutes I believe) “Making Of” and deleted and extended scenes from the film.  Fortunately that “one scene” that I alluded to earlier was extended.  Jennifer Lawrence lip-syncing to Live and Let Die while cleaning the house was pretty incredible.  She looks like she has a lot of fun in all her movies.


Bottom Line: enjoyable with solid acting, but overall, American Hustle is just an okay film and nothing more.  It’s a fun caper film with good performances but nothing really Oscar worthy, which makes me think it was long winded and overrated. The ending is even pretty predictable and seems like it was stolen right out of The Sting.  Don’t steal from The Sting, that’s one of my all-time favourite films…and what I’m going to re-watch tomorrow night.  So I guess I can thank American Hustle for that.

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