An engrossing docudrama covers the life and times of one-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding.
Thurgood Marshall was the first black man to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and director Reginald Hudlin does him justice.
Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron combine in a pungent comedy on motherhood.
Writer-director Edgar Wright's musical caper has bright, shining moments, but they fade.
Ridley Scott's retelling of the Italian kidnapping of John Paul Getty II elicits superb work from patriarch Christopher Plummer.
Steven Spielberg effectively brings Katherine Graham and the volatile Pentagon Papers era to light, but takes few chances.
Dee Rees' saga of white farmers eking out a living in the 1940s Mississippi Delta deserved greater acclaim.
Ruben Östlund's ambitious satire ponders just how many real humans there are in this weird human race.
Greek director Yorgis Lanthimos' psychological thriller borrows from both Greek tragedy and horror and emerges triumphant.
Francis Lawrence's spy thriller features a more famous Lawrence, but she never fully fits the role.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whittaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O'Brien, Tzi Ma
The alien-landing genre has given us some dandies over the years. In Steven Spielberg's memorable 1977 "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," new-age visitors communicate through vibrant colors and ethereal sounds. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" isn't in that class. It's suffocated by the two questions all such films present: Why are they here? How do we communicate with them? The answers are important, but it's the process of getting there that matters. In the case of "Arrival," that process is anything but compelling, and can sometimes seem silly.
As "Arrival" opens, 12 alien ships —pod-like structures of skyscraper dimensions — have landed at sites all over the world, including Montana, where most of the film is set. Though one would imagine that authorities would assemble large teams of experts to "crack the code" of the aliens' language (first noise echoes, then smoky shapes), here we have only two, and in the end only one of them matters. There's Ian (Jeremy Renner), a numbers guy who quickly understands that his approach won't work, and Louise (Amy Adams), a brilliant, multi-lingual, fetching academic willing to don a hazmat suit to convince the aliens of, well, something. Ian and Louise enter the ship through a dark tunnel with white light at the end. Behind a glass wall are the aliens, tall octopus-like creatures.
They must be smarter than we are because, well, they got here from billions of light years away, which begs the question why they haven't learned our language(s). Moreover, they seem uninterested in doing so. Instead, Louise must try to learn theirs, presented on the glass as circular Rorschach test-like inkblots that defy understanding. Over several visits, we see a lot of inkblots and Louise somehow develops an iPad dictionary of the language, which unfortunately is flawed and nearly pitches the world into apocalypse.
In the nick of time, Louise makes a breakthrough, one that gives the film a badly needed twist. As it turns out — spoiler alert — the aliens are good guys, and they've brought the gift of their non-linear "language," which allows Louise to see into the future. She learns something she doesn't want to know, but she also uses her knowledge to bring the nations of the world together and prevent catastrophe. Awesome! There's some interesting material here: flashbacks that aren't flashbacks, Einsteinian questions about time, the issue of free will and determinism. There's a lot to piece together and contemplate after the screen goes dark. But for the most part, "Arrival" is a sadly pedestrian effort, and a flawed one at that.Reviewed by: William Graebner and Dianne Bennett