Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Arrival has a lot to recommend it. The visuals are spectacular, the soundtrack is amazing, the direction, cinematography and acting are all top-notch. I particularly like they way the director didn’t get bogged down in long set-pieces, but short-cut sequences that would have been tempting to draw out. The premise is that the structure of a language affects the way you think and that the language of the aliens allows you to see the future (and presumably the past). This is at best quite a stretch and seems a bit silly afterwards, but the movie sells it quite well at time of watching. However this is all just a plot device giving the protagonist visions revolving around the life and early death of her child.
They key to Arrival is realising that the movie is not about aliens, it’s not about linguistics, it’s not really about time travel. The question at the heart of the movie is: if you knew your future, how would you live your life? Obviously at this point you have to ignore the logical inconsistencies and paradox of changing a future you have seen, this is not the point here. Specifically, in Arrival the question is: if you knew your child would die a slow death at a young age would you choose to have the child?
In this case the mother knows that the child’s condition before the child is even conceived, and importantly she has seen the child’s life and spoken to her so is the best place possible to make the decision. The fact that the chooses to go down that road (a road she knows will be as difficult as one can imagine) because the grief, sorrow and hardship are worth the life (albeit short one) that the child has and also the joy that she brings, is a decision made with the certainty we will never have.
My difficulty with this comes in the form of the father. The future shows (and so the mother knows) that the father will say that he should have been told about the certain illness before they conceived the child. She also knows that he will leave her and the child as a result of her telling him about her prior knowledge.
So the mother does not disclose the future to the father knowing that he would not consent if she made him aware of the consequences. She then tells him about her knowledge knowing that this will drive him away from the child. It seems that she has manipulated him into having a child he would have not chosen to have and then manipulated into leaving them both.
The alternation of the action between the exciting present and the bitter-sweet future is a real strength, changing the pace, mood and colour (literally) of the movie. But it all seems like a very long way to hide a story about the ups and downs of life to the point where you don’t really have time to consider what is happening until the end. The desire for a 6th Sense style plot twist overrides the consideration of the central question. Finally astonishingly selfish acts of the mother in relation to the father indelibly stains her character. The father is very much a bit-part in the movie, I’m not sure if he is simply supposed to be an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome, another heartache on the road, but he seems to simply be a means to an end for the protagonist. This soured the end of the movie leading me to wonder what, if anything, the movie had to say.

2/5 - Ok

Steve Jobs

There have been several movies about the life and work of Steve Jobs but this was the big-budget version starring Fassbender based in Isaacson's book. As with any biopic, particularly when many of the key players are still alive, it was going to be controversial. The biggest endorsement came from Woz, who said that while the details of the movie were dramatised it had the right feel of what happened.
The movie takes place in three acts. Each act is a key point in the career of Jobs and the development of Apple taking place in the run-up to a product launch. The important characters visit him to support him, have it out with him, or make peace. Clearly not all this happened in the hours preceding each product launch, but the consolidation of a whole era into a single epoch allows the relationships between the characters to be developed without having to fit in the whole history of Apple. That being said, references are made to stories that bring more depth to the story if you know about them in advance.
Other movies have told more of the Jobs story, had more detail, been more accurate, but the simplicity is the strength of this movie, allowing us to see more of the characters involved. Normally I dislike historical inaccuracy in movies, but in this case it is clearly not trying to describe precise events that I think it gets away with it. Also with the number of Jobs movies, documentaries and books out there I don’t think there’s much risk of rewriting history.
Possibly it’s one for the fans, people who lived through much of story of early computing when Apple started and nearly ended before becoming the giant it is today, but it was a compelling watch.

4/5 - Very Good


Like so many movies at the moment Valerian falls into the category of visually spectacular but narratively boring. The visuals are undeniably eye-popping and encourage you to explore each frame taking in the detail. But that’s pretty much standard these days; the difference is that this has a real Luc Besson feel to it. It’s idiosyncratic and downright weird, breaking the conventional mold of Sci-Fi.
So far, so much The 5th Element. And just like The 5th Element the story itself is deceptively straight forward given the extraordinary surroundings. Where Valerian differs dramatically is in the characters. In The 5th Element the two main characters were likeable, interesting, fun and even believable. Valerian and Laureline are a pair of obnoxiously good looking teenagers who are mostly interesting in exploring each other but also happen to be top agents for their government. These two small figures fighting large aliens (and humans) just looks silly. But the biggest problem is the really boring and formulaic interaction between them. Their dialogue revolves around Valerian’s fear of commitment and Laureline’s disbelief at his desire to change - the lines could have been lifted directly from the most derivative teenage fiction. It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times and it feels dated.
The main story itself is a simple affair in which a peaceful, technologically undeveloped race living in harmony with nature is destroyed by highly technologically developed race before the crime is covered up. They then try to rebuild their lives requiring the help of heroes from the other side who will expose the crime. This is a trope so old it’s not worth discussing.
This movie is an excuse to delve into the imagination of Besson and that’s always going to be an experience, but too much of the movie is ‘animated creature fights animated human in computer generated surroundings’ which could describe most Sci-Fi / fantasy movies in the past couple of decades. There is a Besson twist which helps, but not enough. Some of the best sequences in this movie hark back to The 5th Element but despite the technological advancements since then they’re less successful, perhaps because they’re not really doing anything new.

2/5 - Ok