Alien invasions and extraterrestrial visitors are a staple of vintage sci-fi paperbacks and classic mostly low budget films from the 1950s.  Remember “The Man from Planet X”?

Director Denis Villeneuve’s (“Sicario,” “Prisoners”) engaging, smart and stylish take on the impact of humans encountering unexpected off-planet visitors tickles the eye and kindles the intellect.

Amy Adams is Louise Banks, a mom and acclaimed linguist with an existing security clearance who is called upon by military authorities to guide an elite that attempts to solve the global mystery of what appears to be a global invasion of unknown alien visitors hovering in sleek space ships that look like gargantuan lozenges or perhaps suppositories.   What do they want?  What kind of language do they speak and is it possible to communicate with them?

The movie, adapted from Ted Chiang’s excellent short story “The  Story of your Life.”      

arrival-2What I like most about this unexpected film is the big theme of discovering we are not alone and the parallel emotions of self-discovery.  Adams’ Banks must find a common language and along the way realizes that who we are and how we think depends on the mystery and nature of language and how we learn.   While the rest of the country and most the world is freaking out, Banks must determine how the alien visitors speak and what they are saying.  A huge task indeed.  Strangely, this process triggers visions of herself and her young daughter Hannah.  Do the strange and enormous octopus-like visitors somehow manage the flow of time itself?  Clearly they can manipulate human minds.  Banks knows that she is racing against time and that her life and that of humanity is at stake.

In her search for answers, she takes a life-threatening chance that could save humanity.

This deeply human movie is an example of what great sci-fi can achieve both on the page and on the big screen.  This is a challenging movie to describe in a few sentences.  But that is what makes it worth experiencing for yourself. Please know that the less you know going in the greater the pleasure when it’s over.

Cinematographer Bradford Young captures an impressionistic tone and texture that creates a dreamlike state that washes over the proceedings and adds immensely to the significant visual and intellectual pleasure of this stimulating and satisfying film that will have you talking about it the next day.  This is Adams’ movie and she is marvelous.  Recommended.  Now playing at Mary Pickford Theater.



war-dogs-sceneBased on an article that appeared in Rolling Stone article titles “Arms and the Dudes” by Guy Lawrence.  Jonah Hill and Miles Teller play two junior high school friends now in their early 20s living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who find a way to exploit a little known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on U.S. military contracts.

Starting small, they begin raking in big money and are living the high life. But the pair quickly gets in over their heads when they lands a $300 million deal to arm the afghan military – a deal that puts them in business with some extremely shady people, not the least of which turns out to be the U.S. Government.

ana-de-armasI’m not a big fan of Jonah Hill or Miles Teller, but they manage to capture the swagger and arrogance of their characters, but I was not especially rooting for their success or even safety.  The one person I was rooting for was the pretty young wife (Ana de Armas) of Teller’s character. 

Armas is a standout in what is mostly a thankless secondary role.  In fact, she makes us care about the story, no small achievement.  Armas is set to co-star in “BLADE RUNNER 2.”

Co-writer director Todd Philips (“The Hangover”) manages to deliver a finished product that reflects the tease of the trailer and the promise of the poster.  There are some laughs, but this is not really a comedy even though there are some laughs courtesy the crazy desperation, dangerous circumstances and dumb decisions of the leads.  This middling and predictable film reminded me a little of “Air America,” but it’s not nearly as spectacular visually of subversive in it’s audacity to expose real corruption and oversight.  The film also stars Bradley Cooper (he was a producer as well).  Warner Bros Home Ent.  Blu-ray.

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