Monday 22 July 2019

Film review: Arrival - an iconic classic of sci-fi cinema

Cert: 12A. Now showing

Amy Adams gets ready for a close encounter in Sci-Fi thriller Arrival
Amy Adams gets ready for a close encounter in Sci-Fi thriller Arrival
Mysterious: Eugenia Khirivskaya and Oleg Dolin star in 'Moscow Never Sleeps'

Hilary A White

The signs were always there that Denis Villeneuve was something special. It was visible long before last year's exceptional cartel thriller Sicario and its badlands dread. Prisoners and Enemy bookended 2013 for the French-Canadian, each imbued with their own brand of shape-shifting chills, and, like Sicario, a visual palette that was arresting.

But even before that, with 2010's Incendies, Villeneuve displayed exactly why he could go on to become one of the greatest film-makers working in Hollywood today - his bold, canny compass when it comes to uncharted waters.

Sci-fi thus always seemed like a place Villeneuve would thrive, and Arrival confirms this.

Without a vast budget (a paltry $50m) or a single laser gun or explosion, he has crafted Ted Chiang's award-winning short story into a unique alien-visit saga fuelled by seismic human energies and sensations usually rare to the genre.

Amy Adams is Louise Banks, a university linguist drafted in by Forest Whitaker's colonel after huge, ear-shaped spaceships appear dotted randomly around Earth. She and maths whizz Ian (Jeremy Renner) are sent to have a close encounter with the visitors who seem to wish to communicate. While tasked with trying to decode their messages, she begins having vivid flashbacks and dreams. The more she understands, the more heightened the cognitive effects of the mental images. Meanwhile, paranoid governments train guns and society panics.

Stealthy signals, unforgettable moments and Johann Johannsson's score coalesce magnificently as an iconic classic of sci-fi cinema, something to cherish for life, is created before your eyes.

5 Stars

Moscow Never Sleeps 

Cert: 15A. Selected cinemas

As if to say there's more to modern Russia than doping scandals, polonium-flavoured tea and questionable foreign policy, Irish director Johnny O'Reilly pulls back the veil via 24 hours with a handful of souls from across that city's dramatic social divide, and gives a view of Russian life on the ground without "the gauze of politics".

O'Reilly has been living in Moscow for 12 years, and with Hollywood calling, he wanted to pen a love letter to the sprawling metropolis before he left. Like other films that seek to put the city in the foreground, the linked multi-narrative format is favoured to cover all quarters.

Stage and screen giant Alexey Serebryakov (Leviathan) is the corporate mogul being pulled down by an investigation into his empire's business practices. His pop-singer girlfriend (Eugenia Khirivskaya, inset) is revisited by an old flame whose dad (Yuriy Stoyanov), a retired TV celeb recovering in hospital, is kidnapped by thugs. Elsewhere, two half-sisters fall foul of the same hooligans on a night out away from their alcoholic dad.

Happenstance aside, O'Reilly's film does an excellent job of repeatedly showing us how the social predator/prey dynamic works in the Russian capital and the realities of that environment. As an outsider living within the system, he brings authentic, bittersweet tones and fair judgments upon his adopted city. And Alexey Serebryakov leads a fine cast.

4 Stars

Hilary A White

Land of the Enlightened 

Club Cert: Now showing

From the outset, Belgian documentary maker Pieter-Jan De Pue makes it clear that the current struggles in Afghanistan are but the latest in a long line. The film opens with a reaction to Obama's announcement of US troop withdrawal and swiftly moves to remnants of the Soviet invasion. This is all set to a ponderous subtitled Pashto-language voiceover describing how, at the beginning of time, when handing out lands, God forgot one king. Full of regret, God offered this king the land he had planned as his garden, the land that would become Afghanistan. The land over which so many would fight.

Shot over seven years and partially staged, the film focuses on a group of young Afghan teens, essentially scavengers and outlaws, who live by robbing opium caravans and selling abandoned weaponry for scrap metal. Their leader, Ghulam (Ghulam Nasir) does most of this so one day he can marry the child currently ensconced in his camp as a cook.

Meanwhile, in a heavily armoured eyrie not far away, US troops swear a lot and work out, when they are not shelling possible insurgents. In between there are lots of beautiful if somewhat repetitive and allegory-heavy shots of landscape and hovering birds of prey. And an ingenious if not terribly donkey-friendly method of lapis lazuli smuggling. It is rather style over substance, and raises more questions than it answers.

3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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