Warning: This review contains some spoilers, so only read on if you have already seen the movie, or don’t mind finding out some revelations of the plot.
Science fiction is not a genre with which I have much familiarity, and for the most part I avoid it in favour of other movies. Arrival, however, defied both my expectations and what I thought of before as typical conventions, and I think of it now as a film universal in its scope and its reach. This film could be described in so many ways, since the number of its themes continues to expand the longer I reflect. But to me, I think of Arrival most of all as a beautifully filmed meditation on life, on language and on unity.
I suppose that doesn’t really help in narrowing it down, so I’ll try to be a little more specific. The movie follows a linguistics professor, Louise, (played by Amy Adams) at a time of great global upheaval, after a series of spacecraft have landed at various locations around the world. Louise is tasked with decoding the language of these alien creatures aboard the spacecraft; they communicate, however, through symbols rather than through the spoken word. Over the course of the film, a number of flashbacks are interwoven amid the narrative, which are eventually revealed to be flashforwards, reflecting in a mysterious way the nonlinearity of time as experienced by the aliens and, through their intervention, by Louise as well. These short vignettes of Louise’s future life with her daughter were beautiful glimpses of the ordinariness of life, in which the surrounding sounds of nature were crisp and clear, and infused with peace.
La La Land has recently enjoyed great critical success with its dominant performance at the Golden Globes. In my opinion, this movie deserves every form of recognition it receives. The film was not only visually and musically dazzling, but also dealt deeply with its themes of artistry and integrity.
When it comes to musicals, I feel that the general population is divided into two camps: one which expresses excitement and delight at the prospect of bursting into song, and the other which is more inclined to roll their eyes and complain about an excess of cheese splattered across all the musical numbers. Although I tend to fall into the former group, I can certainly see why many musicals have earned the label of “cheesy,” and why they might not be seen as serious films.
I think that La La Land, however, accomplishes an impressive feat, in that it delivers fun and abundant joy to its audience, while still feeling organic and retaining its seriousness. I think it could even be said that La La Land has revived or is in the process of reviving the movie-musical genre. And it does so by reaching into the past. Throughout, the film pays tribute to classic musicals, including a couple of scenes that seemed to me directly reminiscent of Singin’ in the Rain. As well, this focus on the past is present in the interests of the two main characters, beautifully embodied by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Stone plays an aspiring actress with an appreciation for classic films like Casablanca. Gosling, on the other hand, is a jazz pianist inspired by the “greats,” rather than the novelty and artificiality of synthesized music. The whole movie is also infused with the feel of Old Hollywood, from the choreography to the costumes and sets.
Anna Karenina is a novel that, to my mind, admits of no comparison, and the recent feature film could not boast of being nearly as impactful or masterful as its source material. In this review, I’d like to talk a little about both the book and the movie, which premiered in 2012 and features Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Domhnall Gleeson (among others).
To proceed justly, I’ll start with the novel, written by Tolstoy and published in 1877. In my previous review of War and Peace, I reflected on the tendency of literary masterpieces to appear intimidating and even unapproachable when viewed from a distance. And yet War and Peace is a spellbinding and engrossing work which could hardly be called inaccessible if length is not considered an impediment. Anna Karenina is also deserving of all its renown, and is also very accessible. However, it differs greatly from War and Peace. While the latter is more epic in style with its historical sweep over the Napoleonic wars, Anna Karenina is a novel focused primarily on relationships and individuals; on love.
The new live-action Jungle Book is not a movie I would have professed myself overly excited to see. I recall watching and enjoying the Disney animated version (and from time to time find myself singing about the necessities of life, bare as they may be). However, that particular movie does not hold such a place of reverence in my mind, as it does for others of my generation. When I first heard about this new 2016 Jungle Book film, I supposed it was primarily intended for children. Yet the buzz around the movie sparked my interest, and after watching a startlingly thrilling trailer, I decided the movie was worth a watch.
My experience with the film completely subverted my initial expectations, starting with this one: it is not only a children’s movie, or maybe not even for children at all. I was certainly startled on numerous occasions throughout my viewing experience. The tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) is frankly quite terrifying, and really makes for a powerful adversary. (If anything, this movie reinforced my fear of tigers, and made me feel more warmly towards bears, as a result of Baloo, who was lovably voiced by Bill Murray). Shere Khan, the tiger, aptly points out to the wolf pack who have adopted Mowgli as their own, that Mowgli is distinctly unlike them. Mowgli is a human, a young boy who will soon become a man, and as such, he does not belong in the jungle but among his own kind.
A little while after watching the movie “Her,” I still find myself pulled in by the images and ideas sown throughout the film, which haunt me as though they appear on a hologram like those in the movie’s slightly futuristic setting.
Perhaps all this (the word “haunt” in particular) sounds like a negative rather than positive description, but negativity is not at all what I mean to evoke. “Her” was utterly compelling, and I found it so from start to finish. I know this to be the case, because I actually had a snack sitting beside me for half of the movie that went completely untouched (this is unheard of!) Yet, as suggested by my opening statement, “Her” wasn’t always easy to watch. At some points, it was uncomfortable and even unpleasant. However, this sort of experience is not something that should be eradicated from art. Rather, it is and can be a meaningful aspect of art; one might go so far as to say that this can be necessary for art.
I could expand on this idea a lot more- of the difficulty of art (both in understanding and in the experience of receiving)- but there are so many things which I want to discuss from this film, so perhaps this “difficulty” should be the subject of a future post. Suffice it to say that a thing does not possess value based on its digestibility: that is, how easy or hard it is, or how pleasant it is. The latter would be the case if pleasure were synonymous with value, or if pleasure alone were capable of providing fulfillment; yet neither one of these aligns with reality. Art strives to capture something real and transcendent; it seeks a holistic vision of the universe, to unite different aspects of experience. If it remains merely at the level of pleasure, the result might be a final product designed only for entertainment or escapism. Good art- true art- might be uncomfortable simply because it is true. The experience might have uncomfortable moments, but these are necessary in order to lead to another subsequent moment, or to a profound insight which would not be possible without the “unpleasantness.”
The movie “Groundhog Day” is about Groundhog Day (February 2nd) and only about Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day repeating hundreds, even thousands of times. Groundhog Day seemingly without end. This is the literal content of the film. In another sense though, the movie is about a lot more, transcending the limits of this one infinitely finite day.
Bill Murray lends his comedic subtlety and dry charm to the role of Phil Connors, a weather reporter inflated with ego and his grandiose career aspirations. Forced for the fourth time to travel to a small town and take part in its February 2nd festivities, he encounters another Phil: the famous groundhog itself. After the end of the day- a boring, banal, dreaded and even dreadful day for Phil (human Phil)- he wakes up the next morning to find it is not the next morning at all. Instead it is the same morning that ought to have been behind him. Phil is stuck in an inexplicable time loop, unable to escape this one day- February 2nd- unable to move into the future.
The Royal Tenenbaums is one my favourite movies and I have watched it a whopping total of four times. I’ve been delaying in writing this review for quite a while, precisely because I like the movie so much. I want to be able to do it justice and to give a compelling recommendation so that a reader or two just might be tempted to go out and see it themselves.
Then again, it is, in thinking about it now, a movie that almost eludes description, because it is so very unique. If you do go out and see the movie, perhaps you will at first have the feeling that it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. It’s possible that such a claim is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is certainly true that The Royal Tenenbaums is unconventional. This unconventional nature, however, is at the heart of its charm. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to be what it is.
The band Ivan & Alyosha belongs to the genre of indie-folk-pop-rock (is that even a genre? if so, it is my favourite one). Their name does not stem from the names of the actual band members but from two characters in Dostoevsky’s great novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.” This alone makes the band super cool and worth a listen (I hope you didn’t read that with sarcasm, because I intend it to be fully serious, in accordance with my personal definition of “cool”).
In my opinion, there is a lot to like about Ivan & Alyosha (even aside from their awesome name). Their melodies are eminently enjoyable and the lead singer’s voice has a distinct, almost ethereal quality to it that makes the music memorable. Yet there is something more too, to do with the lyrics and an intangible quality of the music. There is a profound struggle and seeking involved in their songs, a beauty expressed not by skimming a shallow surface but by dipping deep into the well of the human mind and soul.
In some ways, Bridge of Spies was just what I expected and hoped it would be, based on having seen the trailer in the movie theatre. However, this did not in any way impinge upon the deep resonance and powerful impact of the film. Bridge of Spies is exciting, intense, well-written and well-acted. But more than these, more than anything else, it is powerful. And this power resounds from the movie’s setting of 1957 into our own age.
Put simply, Bridge of Spies (as suggested by the title) is an espionage thriller. And don’t worry if you’re fond of literal meaning: there is, in fact, an actual bridge that plays a crucial role in the movie. More specifically, Bridge of Spies centres around the efforts of Jim Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who, despite being only an insurance lawyer, is asked to defend a Soviet spy caught on American soil. From there, the proceedings transform into a tense hostage negotiation, concerning a young American pilot shot down in Soviet Russia.
I recently read a non-fiction book called “The Most Human Human,” which, (as you have probably noticed by now), is the subject of this review. If you have read even a few of my previous posts, most likely you won’t be surprised that this title alone sparked my interest. What does it mean to be the most human human? Isn’t being human enough to make me human (at least as human as that other human passing on the street)? The essential qualities or capacities that underlie our shared humanity and give us common ground with one another is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and pressingly important. It is also something I have touched on a lot in my writing (see for example Becoming Human, Dignity and Dependence, and the entire Person to Person series). An attentive reader might say I am thoughtfully exploring these issues (and a less generous estimation might use the word “obsessed”).
Yet I hope in this review I can convince you that it is important for us to be aware of what makes us human, and that this is no small or trivial question. Brian Christian, the author of “The Most Human Human,” is certainly of the same mind. Although Christian branches off in many different directions throughout the book, the central narrative revolves around his participation in a competition inspired by the Turing Test. What is the Turing Test exactly? Perhaps you are familiar with the recent film, “The Imitation Game,” which takes place during the Second World War and stars the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. Turing was a computer scientist (among other things) and proposed a test for determining human intelligence. If a computer could be judged as a human through an online conversation, then it passes the test. As a human confederate at a competition of this nature, Brian Christian chatted online with judges who would also converse with computer programs and then decide which of their interlocutors were human. The computer and human labelled most frequently as humans are called, respectively, “The Most Human Computer” and “The Most Human Human.”