Arrival (2016) Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for sci-fi linguistics-based thriller ‘Arrival’, with links below if you want to find out more.

Quick Summary

I’d heard good things about ‘Arrival’ but not really taken much notice at the time and marked it as a ‘one to watch when it’s available to rent’ type film (which to be fair, is the majority of my movie viewing). As I ordered it on Amazon, the words ‘linguistic expert’ flashed by on the description, and triggered a vague memory. Then, within about 20 seconds of the start of the film, it hit me… “I’ve read this!”.

Based on the excellent sci-fi short “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that I read at some point in the last six months with no knowledge of this film’s provenance, the spirit of the story, and an almost unchanged plot, is captured well in this slow-paced but big-themed exploration of time, communication, fate… and aliens, of course.

Laughs: 0/5

I’m not going to even try and pretend there is any laughs in here. It is a sombre, serious and reflective movie, thankfully not ruined by any shoehorned smartarses or sidekicks.

Tears: 3/5

I’m scoring this high on tears, though my face was dry. I think that’s because I knew the plot before watching so had already experienced that first jolt of realisation that comes as the pieces are put together. That said, I did gain more insight into the original story from watching this, which often happens to me with good adaptations. Even as someone who knew the general idea, I still found it moving, especially after a little post-viewing reflectiveness.

Cheese: 0/-5

I think cheese, like laughs, would have killed this film dead, so thankfully, this is a fromage-free zone.

Cheers: 3/5

I’m scoring this a decent ‘cheers’ rating, not for action or easy plot arcs, but because it does a really decent job of weaving and resolving a consistent thread from the first scene to the last, without any wishy-washy ‘Interstellar’ style devices coming out of nowhere to try and round it all off and act all clever like because they ‘did some special fx’.

This is down to disciplined adherence to the strong source material that already did this well. If you watch this and don’t know what I mean, then think again about the ending in context of the whole film. You’ll get there eventually. Message me if you’re stuck.

Fears: 2/5

There is a certain creepiness about the alien ‘heptapods’ and the misty spaceship in which they reside… I don’t want to say more to avoid spoiling anything, but the almost hypnotic slowness of the encounters adds to the general unease. I think it’s okay to say though (in case you are worried) that this isn’t a horror. Don’t expect ‘Alien’ – but do expect aliens, and linguistics.

Bonus Category: +3 Say what?

I’m not sure if this is a credit for the original short-story writer, or the producers who decided to make it into a film, but you tell me the last time you watched a film where the main lead was a female linguistics expert who is tasked with deciphering a circular alien language?

It is such an unusual and unique plot (that actually works), you will find yourself wishing you had the skills and reason to try and unlock the mysteries of extra-terrestrial cryptograms. Not many films can say that, if any.

Total: 11

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrival_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2543164/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

Doctor Strange Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for Marvel’s latest offering ‘Doctor Strange’, with links below if you want to find out more.

Quick Summary

Marvel have a knack of picking characters from their extensive back catalogue who will bring something different to the genre around the core universe-establishing ‘Avengers’. Ant Man is small (mostly), Guardians of the Galaxy are Sci-Fi, and now, Doctor Strange is, well, strange.

Actually, he’s not that strange at all, but his particular set of powers and the world he inhabits are, with inter-dimensional, magical, world-bending action. It’s a smart move. This is why we probably won’t see a ‘Black Widow’, ‘Hulk’ or ‘Hawkeye’ movie, because Marvel seem focussed on characters that provide something new to work with in the very construction of the world the movie is set in.

I enjoyed this after a little settling in, and look forward to a time when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is free of his origins story to grow into the role further.

Laughs: 2/5

If you want ‘dark’ Marvel, turn to the ‘Defenders’ series building up on Netflix (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Iron Fist). The Avengers world is slightly goofier because it has to satisfy a wider family audience. As such, our hero here once again has a wry, sarcastic sense of humour, a bit like Tony Stark, Captain America, and all the rest, really. Yes, it’s becoming a bit stereotypical, but it’s a formula that seems to work for dealing with preposterous situations and maintain a semblance of realism. If the main character can laugh at how mad everything is, so can we, and as therefore, accept it.

Benedict Cumberbatch needs a little more time with his new American accent to get his beats spot-on, however.

Tears: 1/5

Hmm. It’s a difficult one this. You need a real ‘Uncle Ben’ moment in a superhero film to raise a tear from me, and although this has got something close, it’s not massively heart-rending. It doesn’t help that Strange himself is a bit of an arrogant git to start with, so you’re not massively invested in his own losses, but do cheer with his redemption, which is another category…

Cheese: -1/-5

I’m sorry Ben C (as I’m sure you are reading this, in which case, forgive me, and please get my books made into films and star in them all if you like) but you need a little bit more time with that American accent. It’s not that it’s a bad accent, it’s just that it’s lacking the dramatic ebb and flow you are famous for (you were Smaug for goodness’ sake!).

It’s quite frustrating to see such a good actor, and I believe, thoroughly nice chap, be dulled a little by having to ‘Yank it up’ (that sounds rude, but you get what I mean). It’s very close, and only slightly distracting, but I needed to mention it somewhere.

Cheers: 3/5

This is where Marvel always hit the high notes for me. The film is full of fist-pumping, mind bending action and iconic moments that keep it building to a great climax (once the origins bit is out of the way, but I liked that too).

Yes, Strange is a bit of a git to start out with, but so was Tony Stark, and the journey is the point. Bit-of-a-git-done-good seems to be a winning combination, when combined with top-class, original visual fx and action.

Fears: 0/5

If you have a fear of kaleidoscopes and pop art, keep away, but this doesn’t set out to scare in that sense, I don’t think.

Bonus Category: + 3 Acid House

This is a trippy film and has all the fun of hallucinogens without the over-riding fear that everyone in the room is a devil come to eat your soul. The visual fx are stunning, and a welcome change from the usual barrage of explosions and collapsing buildings.

That’s not to say there aren’t explosions and collapsing buildings, but it’s the way they explode and collapse that’s so different here. I would say unique, but ‘Inception’ paved the way for this world-bending style. Doctor Strange, however, takes it to a whole new level.

Total: 8

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

Links:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Strange_(film)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1211837/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.

How Not To Work & Claim Benefits Review

Using my Laughs, tears, cheese and cheers rating system, here is my spoiler-free review for the locally made (to me), internationally distributed ‘How Not To Work and Claim Benefits (and other useful information for wasters)’, with links below if you want to find out more.

hntw-poster

(Not so) Quick Summary

‘How Not To Work & Claim Benefits…’ is an ambitious production that punches well above its weight in terms of production values and quality, and mixes kitchen-sink, psychological, comedy and moral themes into the tale of two down-and-out wasters gifted £10,000 from a mysterious benefactor.

This is a departure from my usual diet of big-budget, Hollywood-centric cinema movies, as I finally get to watch an independent movie that I’ve seen steadily come to fruition via social network contacts who were directly involved in the production. However, most of these contacts are at least once or twice removed, friends-of-friends type people, so I feel I can still offer up a fairly, none-biased review, all be it tempered for the barriers inherent in a production of this scale compared to mainstream blockbusters.

With that said, having secured an impressive distribution deal on Amazon prime (links below), as a patron of said service I sat and watched this as I would any other movie, so I thought I’d put it though my same review-system mill and see what comes out.

Laughs: 2/5

The film rotates around the central relationship between Mike and Dave (or is that Dave and Mike?), sharing a crumby flat together and wasting away their days with alcohol, drug and benefits fuelled high jinks and adventures. The banter between them works better as the film progresses and you almost watch the pair relax into the roles for certain scenes.

There are some well-placed comedy characters scattered across the supporting cast that lift certain long scenes that risked being too functional without the light relief.

Not every joke landed with me, but they rarely do in any scale of production and none felt too contrived or fell disastrously flat.

Tears: 1/5

Without spoiling anything, there is a very serious side to the plot that we are introduced to early on with flashbacks, dealing with bullying and the victims of harassment. It’s hard-hitting and a little hard to watch, but only because it rings true. However, the pay-off for this traumatic back-story is unfortunately lost a little in a third act that falls into heavy, dialogue driven revelation rather than finding a way to show the impact we are obviously meant to feel, otherwise I would have scored it higher.

Cheese: 0/-5

For the uninitiated, the ‘cheese’ category is minus points for when film-makers commit the sins of lazy, clichéd dialogue, edits or action that they should really know better to avoid. Although there may be some moments in this film that don’t achieve the laughs or emotional impact I think they were after, it feels like the result of lack of time and resources and therefore hard compromises. If a major studio tests a scene and it’s not working, they will often re-shoot, re-edit, do pick-ups or what not. I doubt those options were readily available here, so I am letting them off any deductions!

Cheers: 1/5

Scoring on my ‘cheers’ category doesn’t necessarily mean a fist-pumping, feel good ending. What I look for here is a satisfying moment or conclusion that makes me feel rewarded as a viewer, even if it is dark or melancholy.

There is a noticeable lurch to the finish line with this film that I think it suffers from. In all constructive honesty, I found the last third of the film a bit slow and overly reliant on excessive revelatory dialogue. As I said before, I would have liked to have been shown more of this, in a more interesting way.

As a novelist, I know that endings are the hardest thing to get right, and I wouldn’t claim to have nailed this myself yet (please still buy my books). It felt like either the script or the cut needed a pretty ruthless edit or re-think, and possibly production time to do this got away from them. It felt like a good 15 minutes could have been cut, and the film would have worked better. Don’t get me wrong though, the idea of the ending (and film in general) is a good one, worth telling.

However, as it was a good idea I’ve given it a point, as plenty of films don’t have the idea or get the pacing right.

Fears: 0/5

It’s rare for none-horror films to score here, so nothing out of the ordinary with this category.

Bonus Category: + 2 Job Done

The work and passion that went into making this film and getting it to market must have been astronomical. In this area (Staffordshire. UK), a lot of our creative industries are reliant on service-industry style work (weddings/music videos), and I know that good intentions to create original work often fall by the wayside when there are bills to pay. I deal with this by working a ‘normal’ job and making little to no money from my books, but all I need to do that is a computer and some self-discipline. Getting a project like this past the finishing line is a major achievement and my congratulations goes out to all involved. Well done.

Total: 6

(Check the Leader Board to see how it compares…)

 

Links:

THE FILM: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Claim-Benefits-Useful-Information-Wasters/dp/B06XBTRV6P

OFFICIAL SITE: http://www.rottenparkroad.com/portfolio/how-not-to-work-and-claim-benefits-other-useful-information-for-wasters/

Agree / Disagree with my assessment? Leave a comment to let me know or submit your own scores for this or any other film listed in the leader board below to be aggregated into the ‘readers choice’ table on the main rating page.

And if you enjoy my reviews, please like/share this page link, and consider taking a look at my original science fiction books advertised in the side bar! Thanks for reading.