Arrival (2016): Tell (Me) Your Story

This weekend, I saw Arrival (2016), starriarrival-1024x682ng Amy Adams, who I’ve loved since Julie & Julia (2009). Others have already written about this movie and its eerie prescience to this year’s election and global climate, so I won’t comment on that other than to say, echoing the young woman walking out of the theater ahead of us: “my mind is blown.”

I’ll start this review by discussing the end of the film rather than the beginning, which seems appropriate given the film and its approach to time. As the film draws to a close, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) saves the world by calling China and saying, in Mandarin so that the audience doesn’t understand, “In war, there are no winners, only widows.” This one phrase helps the Chinese president understand that his actions will not solve any issues, that his actions might just cause unnecessary pain and death. It’s important that the audience doesn’t understand what she said (unless you speak Mandarin), we know only that her WORDS provide the means of reconciliation that are needed and saves the planet from a completely unneeded conflict.

From the beginning of the film, words and their power are emphasized. This really is a movie that could be described as a meditation on language. When Louise first meets Ian (Jeremy Renner), he’s reading from her book and reads a quote aloud: “language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” She seems mildly embarrassed and somewhat defensive about her own choice of words from this book; this moment, one that floats by almost unnoticed, but it provides the key to unravelling the mystery of the heptapods and their place here on Earth and, perhaps, our own purpose.

(This idea reminds me a quote I had hanging outside of my office door for years (from Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse): “Language is the liquid that we’re all dissolved in. / Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem.” It is this idea — that language can be messy and hard and awful but that at the same time it can be beautiful and create empathy and solve problems — that anchors Louise. She never stops believing in the power of words and story, even when alternative answers seem to present themselves. This belief is key, and one that we all need to hang on to even harder than we have before.)

maxresdefaultOne of the big questions of the film has to do with story. If we know all that will happen to us in advance, what would we change? This isn’t a new question. Think of Hamlet and his nearly endless dithering, caused not by cowardice (despite what he says) but by consciousness. It is only when he decides that predestination (knowing the story in advance) matters less than being ready for the story to come that he can finally “let be.” This is exactly the reason Louise makes a conscious decision to have a child, even though that child will die from some sort of illness at a young age. Her knowledge of the future doesn’t stop her from appreciating the moment, the present, and the potential impact that the child has on the world. This may seem a controversial decision, but to me, it wasn’t. We can’t know what the world would have been like without her daughter; what we do know is that Louise’s love for her daughter is big enough that it helps her find the courage that she needs to break through the language barrier and actually communicate with the heptapods and with the Chinese president.

The other big question of the film is the one that Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) tells Louise to ask the heptapods and one that philosophers have been asking for eons: “What is your purpose on Earth?” The scene where she explains the linguistics of that question is another that may go by unnoticed, but it shouldn’t. As Louise works through the parts of the sentence, we are there with her and we should, I hope, begin to think about this question as it applies to ourselves. What is our purpose on Earth? Are we here as a short-lived part of the Earth’s history, destroying all that is around us, burning the world down because of fear? Or, are we here to learn, to communicate, to come together, and to grow? Since the heptapods are coming back in 3,000 years, it seems the latter. And that is hopeful and optimistic (link here to NPR’s Linda Holmes’s review about the optimism of the movie).

If you think of these pieces together (language as a weapon; the importance of story; the questioning of our purpose here on Earth), we see why she chooses to reach out and communicate, even at a point where there seems no reason to do so. She’s the one who understands that communication is commonly fraught with miscommunication. So, the heptapods may use a word like “weapon” when they actually mean something closer to “tool.” Again, that scene where she first meets Ian is important here. She knows that language itself can be used as a weapon. But that weapon doesn’t always have to lead to hurt; language can be used to soothe or to clarify. She knows that through the power of story, we can connect with each other. And through that connection, we can begin to realize the importance of love and have empathy for others.

Complex, thoughtful film. I’m not ready to say it’s one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time… yet. I am ready to say that I’ll be seeing this one again. And maybe again. And again.

If you watched this movie and loved it as much as I did, you might want to check out a few more things that inform the movie:

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who: Tennant’s Second Season, AKA The Season of Martha

Well, I have finally finished the second season of Doctor Who. I was distracted by other shows, including The Great British Baking Show, The Daily Show, The Nightly Show (so sad this one is canceled), and The Night Of. The reason I was distracted is because this season of Doctor Who is a bit uneven. It’s so uneven that I had a hard time getting through the season again.

For example, The Lazarus Experiment is just awful. The plot is fine, but the monster is just ridiculous. Plus,  Professor Lazarus is actually more likeable as a monster instead of as a scientist. It was almost painful to watch.

Then, there’s Blink, which is absolutely blinkawesome. The Doctor and Martha are hardly in this one, but that hardly matters because the cast and the story is just so, so good. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a set of ancillary characters as much I like Sally Sparrow and Billy Shipton.

Overall, though, this season is much better than Tennant’s first season, and what’s best is that we see Martha grow as a character. I’ve never really bought the Martha-Is-In-Love with the Doctor bit that the character is based on, so I’m quite glad that she moves past all that silliness by the end of the season.  It’s almost like the writers tried to re-invent Rose, but that doesn’t work for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Rose was living a somewhat humdrum life, working in a shop, watching tele with Mickey, and bickering with her Mum. So, her falling in love with the Doctor and the doctor-who-martha-series-3adventurous life he offered her makes sense. Martha, though, had a lovely family and an impressive career and future, so this idea that she’d want to run away from all that, just to play second fiddle to a woman she’s never met, isn’t believable.

 

Haven (SyFy Series 2010-2015): Rocky Start, Goes On Too Long, But Great in the Middle

For an unabashed (now) Stephen King fan and Constant Reader, I am surprised that I haven’t been watching Haven all along. I say unabashed now, but I have been bashed in the past for my love for King by those who think he is not a “real writer.”  These criticisms make no sense to me now, but when I was younger and more insecure, I remember feeling that perhaps I wasn’t as smart or literary as other folks because I didn’t like the right writers. Now, though, I go with the Angus theory for literature, which is Screw’Em! Who cares what they think?

This series makes me wish I’d come up with a clever way to rate what I watch, like 5 bags of popcorn = excellent or three couch pillows means it was only okay. Alas, I did not. This series would definitely be a 3.5 on whatever scale of 5.

If you haven’t watched it yet either, then just know that for the first 1-5 episodes, you’re going to be doubting whether or not you will even watch the next one. The series gets off to a very rocky, very corny, and very silly start. None of the main characters (Audrey Parker, Nathan Wuornos, and Duke Crocker) seem very likeable or real; they all start as these stiff, stock characters who are hard to even pay attention to, and then they immediately become crime solvers/ saviors to unintentional X-men, which is all very peculiar.

However, at some point, the show gets much better. I tried to figure out which specific episode, but it happens over a few of them at the end of Season 1. If Haven had had a set time period and been more interested in telling a story than in having multiple seasons, this show could have been a 4.5 out of 5, even with the not-so-great start. The drawn-out-over-too-many-seasons problem means that the characters don’t grow and develop in a way that makes sense, and there are too many times when Audrey Parker says “I have to stop the troubles” and too many times where Nathan had to try to come to grips with Audrey having to stop the troubles. As a huge fan of Six Feet Under, it was great to see Eric Balfour back on the screen again, but his character was also undermined by the attempt to have too many episodes. How many times were we supposed to follow along with him coming back from the “dark side” of the troubles?

This show offers up some  funny, breaking the 4th wall quips, like Jennifer’s “You try operating a supernatural door with a vampire novel and a positive attitude.” There are also some great King Easter eggs, like one character having Dandelos cereal for breakfast and Duke wearing a Deux Ex Machina Cargo hat.

If you’re looking for a show to have on in the background while you do other things, Haven is a great choice. It would have been a show to WATCH if they’d just been okay with having a set number of episodes, but I am not sure that was even a thing back in 2010 when this show started.

Star Trek: Beyond (2016) Should Win for New Category at the Oscars — Best Use of a Beastie Boys’ Song

Okay, if you haven’t gone to see Star Trek: Beyond at the theaters yet, get yourself to theater posthaste. Get a big bucket of popcorn and get ready for a fun, wild ride.Now, I usually don’t write reviews for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m making an exception  this time since my biggest Star Trek fan friend, Joey, hasn’t seen it yet. So, this one is SPOILER FREE.

I love the Star Trek reboot and actually like them much better than the Abram’s Star Wars movies, but that’s a different review, isn’t it?

star-trek-beyond-sofia-boutellaMy favorite addition to the Star Trek cast is Jaylah. She was fun and badass, she worked well as a contrast to Chris Pine, and I hope she’s back for the next movie, this time with her own captain’s chair (Ahem!)

Speaking of Chris Pine, he did a great job as a  somewhat troubled Captain Kirk, but I can’t say the same for Zachary Quinto as Spock, who seemed not just stoic but bland in this film. I liked him in the first two, but he seemed really quite forgettable in this film, though there were some nice moments with Dr. McCoy.

It feels like Abrams, or perhaps Justin Lin deserves the credit for this, has found the right balance of philosophy with action in this film, and, seriously, I’m going to see this movie again just for the Beastie Boys moment, which was so, so fabulous.

Live long and prosper, J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek movie franchise.

 

Ghostbusters (2016): Unafraid of Ghosts

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So, somehow I missed the anti-woman hype about the new Ghostbusters until about a week before I went to see it. The very idea that people thought that this would be a bad movie just BECAUSE it starred women just seems so dumb, especially after seeing it and finding out how good it was.

In this reboot, there are some jokes that fall flat and some characters that seem a bit wooden. Plus, the giant ghost villian at the end is both creepy and comical, which is a hard combo to pull off and doesn’t really work in this movie either. However, I don’t think that means it was a bad idea or that those issues are DUE to women being the lead characters.

What does work is the women playing these characters with so much gusto and joy. This movie was absolutely fun to watch. I know a lot of praise will go to McCarthy and Wiig, as it should, but I think Leslie Jones was the stand out in this movie. She was funny, real, and dynamic (not literary, more a force of energy and ideas and positivity).

The other thing that I really liked about this movie is that it wholeheartedly embraced the original Ghostbusters and people’s love for it. Each of the original Ghostbusters had a cameo, and I clapped when Sigourney Weaver popped it during the credits. I’m glad that this Ghostbusters wasn’t afraid of the ghosts of the first movie — it made this one so, so much better.

If you’re looking for a fun movie to see one afternoon, this one is a must-see. Brava to all!

Doctor Who: Tennant’s First Season

david-tennantOkay, get it out. That sigh that means David Tennant is so sexy, and when he cries over Rose Tyler, you have to pause the show because you’re crying so hard that you can’t hear him say “Rose Tyler.”

Whew. Don’t we all feel better now.

I, too, like Tennant and think that perhaps he’s the best Doctor in the recent series. If I had to put the new doctors in order, it would go like this:

  1. Tennant
  2. Eccleston
  3. Capaldi
  4. Smith

Now that you know where I stand, you can get over it when I tell you that this season of Doctor Who is just not great. It’s not. It has some of the WORST episodes. I’m not certain if Love and Monsters is actually worse than New Earth, but I do know that the moment paving_431when Elton talks about his love life with Ursula is probably one of the grossest moments on TV  (and I regularly watch G of T).  I don’t get this season’s fascination with flat people — Ursula and Cassandra. The weird jealousy plotlines with Sarah Jane and Rose and with Rose and Mickey were also distracting. I just don’t think that a woman who had travelled to other planets and seen as much as Sarah Jane saw would really be that petty. And, Mickey, poor Mickey, he really does get used like a human version of K-9, which I don’t like. Mickey is great.

This is the season that establishes Torchwood, but the episode with Queen Victoria is confusing, loud, and somewhat boring. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been able to pay attention either time that I’ve watched it. I don’t think Tennant really shines in this role until Rose leaves, but the episode where he says goodbye to Rose is a really good one. All in all, I say that this season may be somewhere near the bottom of my list, especially since the other Tennant seasons are so, so good.

I’m super excited about the next season — Doctor/Donna is my favorite combo. Come on, spaceman!

Doctor Who: Eccleston’s Season

doctor-who-season-one_50-1000x800I am re-watching Doctor Who in addition to Game of Thrones, in some ways as an antidote to the darkness and despair that is part of GoT. Don’t get me wrong — I like both shows, but sometimes, it’s important to have a little joy included with the terror, and there’s not much joy in GoT. There are times when DW is more filled with terror for me, since I really like the characters and don’t want them to die. In GoT, there aren’t many characters that I like much anymore and I expect them all to die in a horrible way, which makes the show less powerful, but that’s a whole other blog post.

So, to all the fans of Classic Who, be prepared to be disappointed. I did not start there, but with the reboot, the ninth season starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. I do plan to watch the Classic Who episodes, but since I first fell in love with the Doctor while the Doctor was Eccleston, that’s where I’m starting my own review of the series. When I first watched this series, I found Rose to be slightly annoying. Upon this re-watch though, I liked her much more and found her excitement over the doctor and travelling to be endearing.

I think this season of the doctor was wonderful. It has some of the best episodes, including The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. I know that folks generally are in love with David Tennant, and who can blame them, but I don’t think Tennant could have come into the show as successfully if Eccleston hadn’t set the stage for him. In Eccleston’s portrayal of The Doctor, we see a man who is absolutely soul-sick over the Time Wars and his place in them, but we also see a man who loves the universe and believes in the power of love and kindness and goodness. The scene in The Doctor Dances where Eccleston joyfully proclaims “Everybody Lives! This one time, everybody lives” shows just how much the Doctor wants to be able to save people and to give people the opportunity to enjoy all that there is to offer in this universe. I love when he picks up the little boy, Jamie, and says,
“Only 20 years to pop music. You’re going to love it.” Billie Piper helps us realize the importance of joy and love since what he and we learn from her journeys with him is to embrace life and to acknowledge all the parts of living this life that we have to lead.

Now, I’ll go ahead and tell you in advance that my favorite Doctor/Companion pairing is Tennant and Tate, but there’s a magic between Eccleston and Piper that allows for all the rest of the doctors to step in and move this series forward. I hate that Eccleston left “under a cloud” (as a former coworker would say whenever someone left the college under less than auspicious circumstances), but I’m so glad he was part of the series and this season.

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