Review: “Arrival”

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 31, 2016 in / No Comments


Let’s talk about “Arrival”. Brought to you by one of my favorite working directors, Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Sicario”), this sociopolitically fueled sci-fi flick might best be described at the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for millennials. Writer Eric Heisserer has cooked one of the most intelligent screenplays of the year, developed from Nebula Awarding-winning short Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Like “Close Encounters”, and diametrically opposed in intellect to this year’s “Independence Day: Resurgence”, the story revolves around analysis and communication with aliens, while considering our tendency to  attack things that we don’t understand. Here, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) pair up to decode the language of squid-like aliens that have descended in twelve sleek, pill-shaped vessels across Earth.   The orbs seem to break laws of planetary physics  as they hover silently and motionless some 50 feet from the ground. Oft-Villeneuve collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ominous, pulsatingnew-arrival-movie-poster-615813 score sets the tone as usual, here in anticipation of first contact. Making matters more urgent is Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), who, by instinct sees an imminent threat, ready to launch an offensive in conjunction with other world military leaders. So it’s up to Banks and Donnelly to make sense of a language that is presented in ink-like loops, sentences that have no beginning or end, immeasurably more complex than ours, from a race of creatures that do not think or exist in linear time. This is a sort of existential parallel to Banks’ past, which recounts in fragments her young daughter who died of a rare cancer. Although a timely allegory for xenophobia, which happens to depict but is not limited to the United States, “Arrival” unfurls on a much larger stage, that of the entire human race and our primal tendencies. On the surface complex tapestry, one that requires careful calculation rather than brute force, Villeneuve’s movie really boils down to two words: What if? Take from out what you will; the movie will leave you with plenty to think about, to a dizzying degree.  DP Bradford Young (“Selma”) does beautiful things with distant shots: the landscapes, the craft looming in the air, the military camps, all seem to emphasize how little we are. We expect nothing less  from Adams and Renner, who are both convincingly cerebral as they attempt to stop a self-fulfilling prophecy that will begin with weapons of mass destruction.

— M. Parsons

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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