Ever since the positive buzz surrounding the film during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, I've been looking forward to seeing Arrival, a movie that critics and audiences have both seemed to love. Intelligent, emotional, astonishing--or so say many of the reviews. Since well-produced sci-fi is so hard to come by, my expectations were high.
I'm not going to give much away. Arrival is a story that begins with alien ships arriving in different parts of the world. Amy Adams plays a linguist who is hired by the federal government to try to figure out what the aliens are saying (their speech sounds like whale grunts, and their writing is a series of very complicated looking circles). There's a love interest played by Jeremy Renner who is some sort of scientist, also hired to figure out what the aliens want.
To be honest, this was the first film I fell asleep during, in many, many years. I don't think I missed much, as my snoring quickly woke me up in the crowded theatre. One could easily snooze through fifteen minutes of the first hour of this film and not feel like you missed a beat.
Hence the problem: this is an alien movie with little excitement. Adams decodes the alien language in a ridiculously and completely unbelievable short period of time. We don't feel part of this finding, as it's just shown that she has the moment where the circles make sense. Awful story telling at this key moment ruins the entire film.
Though Adam's performance is terrific as usual, it can't save this story, whose last act is exactly the opposite of what the critics claim it to be. It's not intelligent. It's dumb. It's very dumb.
This film tries so hard to be something from the mind of Terrence Malick or Christopher Nolan, but ends up being a poor man's version of either. I hadn't believed an ounce of it throughout, and the big attempt at a spiritual conclusion fell extremely flat with me. Arrival ended up being a solidly-crafted, well-acted film, that suffered from poor story conception by the writers.
I'm glad an adult sci-fi drama is doing well with critics and audiences, however. Hopefully, we'll see a bit of resurgence with the genre. And with a bit of luck, every ten years or so, we'll be able to see a top-quality epic like Tree of Life or Inception, and a bunch of films, like Arrival, that attempt to be such a masterpiece, but end up falling far short.
My rating: a very generous 7/10.
I've been a hardcore Metallica fan since the late eighties. I've waited so long for this new album to come out that it felt like an eternity. It's my belief that after creating the best four metal albums of all time, Metallica took a major down-step with the Black Album, and then a plummet to Load. I felt every subsequent album was better than the previous, however, and recently I had a feeling that the band was nearing a return to the greatness that was 1980's Metallica.
Hardwired, I'm glad to say, is a fantastic album. It does play too slow for my liking, having far too many medium-tempo tracks. But, those tracks, unlike on some of the previous albums, are consistently good, like in the vein of The Memory Remains-quality. Songs like Here Comes Revenge and Murder One are well-crafted tracks that would have been far too slow for early Metallica albums, but are fitting for modern Metallica.
The early releases, Hardwired...to Self Destruct, Moth Into Flame, and Atlas, Rise! are some of faster tempo tracks on the album. They're awesome. In fact, Atlas, Rise! is worthy of being on any Metallica album. But the hardest, most powerful, and probably best track on Hardwired is the final song on the album—a masterpiece called Spit Out the Bone. It's fantastic and is clearly the song that defines this album. If it's not played on the current tour—in fact, if Metallica doesn't open or close with it—there are going to be a lot of pissed-off metal heads. It's fast and brutal and is old school Metallica at its very best.
So, where does Hardwired...to Self Destruct land in the echelon of Metallica albums? It's far better than Black, Load(s), St. Anger, or Death Magnetic. It's not Master of Puppets great, but then again, no album is. I believe it's in the same quality vein as Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, or ...And Justice for All. And that's saying something.
Metallica is back. I can only hope that we hear several of the new tracks on the current tour—and that's a feeling I don't ever remember having. Let us hope we don't have to wait another eight years for the next album to appear. If the current trend continues, it could give Puppets a run for its money.
On a Metallica scale, my rating: 8.5/10.
Love him or hate him, Mel Gibson has been on an extraordinary run as a director. Braveheart ('95), The Passion of the Christ ('04), Apocalypto ('06), and now Hacksaw Ridge. These are all first-rate films, and few directors have matched Mel's consistent high level of quality over the last twenty years.
Hacksaw Ridge, based on an almost unbelievable true story of a man who enlisted to fight in WWII, but who refused to carry a gun, is the type of character-driven drama that Mel exceeds at directing. Unlike Saving Private Ryan, Mel takes a more traditional war movie pace, starting with a slow, small town establishment, upping the stakes and action through a somewhat reserved boot camp act, and finishing with some of the most vicious war scenes we've ever seen on the big screen. Andrew Garfield shines in the lead, playing a conflicted character, who so badly wants to help the American cause, but who needs to stay within his firm belief in the Ten Commandments.
Simon Duggan does a fantastic job with the cinematography, especially during the brutal wars scenes. The size and scope of the battle, although not the largest ever, certainly feels epic in size, They somehow pulled off shooting this important part of the invasion of Okinawa, and the rest of the 131 minute film, extraordinarily well, for only $40 million. This is a huge accomplishment for Mel and his producers. I don't remember ever seeing such a large, epic film shot on such a medium-sized budget.
Hacksaw Ridge is clearly the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan, and deserves to be mentioned in the greatest war movies of all time. This is definitely the type of film you want to see on the big screen. If you can stomach the brutality of hand-to-hand combat, complete with flame throwers and machine guns, please go see Hacksaw Ridge, not only to experience filmmaking at its best, but to learn about this true story of bravery, the likes of which will blow your mind.
My Rating: 9.5/10
I haven't written an official review of Titanfall 2 yet, because I haven't finished the campaign. It's hard to stay with the campaign because the multi-player is so fun. It's the best FPS multi-player I've ever played.
Respawn is simply world-class at FPS innovation. I just wanted to mention a few of the innovations in the new Titanfall.
The grappling hook is a game-changer. It makes travel a breeze. Once you get used to it, you're able to hit the right spot with the hook to fling yourself great heights and distances. Combined with the double-jump, it gives pilots incredible paths to scale vertical parts of the maps. You can also use it to grab an opponent, snap them back towards you, and finish them off. It's so useful, especially in movement, that it's hard to imagine an FPS going forward without a similar device. I'm pretty sure we'll see it in next year's COD.
The new gravity star is such a fun object and such a push forward in the genre as well. You toss it where needed. It can curve projectiles around corners. Better yet, if you see a group of NPC's marching towards you, you throw the gravity star above them, they get pulled into a ball around it, and it's easy pickings. It adds such a fun dynamic to combat.
The L-STAR is one of the best guns in recent memory. It shoots energy particles, but at a little bit slower rate than bullets. It's the smoothest gun I ever remember using. It runs out of ammo via an overheat, so you have to manage your bursts. There's no physical reloading. If you manage your shots wisely, it can be incredibly deadly, and makes all the others guns feel antiquated. It's a beast in close to medium combat situations, but the challenge of using it at longer distances is even more fun.
These are just a few of the many things that make Titanfall 2 special. The game is a blast right out of the box. However, with the Respawn innovations, it gets better and better as you unlock these news things and learn how to use them. It's such a shame that COD will just copy the innovations in a year or two and make most of the money off of them.
I'm really hoping that some holiday price cuts boost Titanfall 2 sales. Respawn deserves to make good returns on it. Their thoughtful innovation, as expected, will help the whole FPS genre going forward.
Below is one of my all time favorite scenes, from one of my favorite films. It's wonderfully written to capture the nuances of the Upper Midwestern culture. It's fantastically acted. The pace is perfect. And Joel and Ethan Coen masterfully decided not to include the reversal shot.
Even though the framing is awful, the image of small town humanity in front of the large Midwestern industrial mill is highly fitting within the themes of the film. It's scenes like this that I love to study in order to better appreciate the brilliance of great filmmaking.
I wish I was able to write something as amazing as this scene. This is why Fargo is such a classic movie:
It's such a wonderful feeling when your favorite band releases a song, and it's so good you can't get it out of your head. I've been singing these lyrics for days:
Die as you suffer in vain,
Own all the grief and the pain,
Die as you hold up the skies,
How does it feel on your own?
Bound by the world all alone,
Crushed under heavy skies,
We're 12 days away from the release of Metallica's long-awaited new album, and so far the tracks that they've dropped have been fantastic. It looks like this is the album we've been waiting for since the late eighties.
Here're my current feelings on the tracks released so far, on a Metallica scale. All these songs would be perfect 10's on a normal scale.
Lords of Summer 8.7/10 - I sang this song all summer long last year. It's an epic rock anthem, and I hope they keep playing it live. Glad it's on the extended version of the new album.
Hardwired...to Self-Destruct 8.6/10 - It's a quick song that grows on you. The band wanted to change it up with something on the shorter side, and ended up producing something pretty unique for Metallica.
Moth Into Flame 8.9/10 - This is a rockin' song that has some of the best lyrics that Metallica has ever written. The band hits its high point when the narratives are strongest.
Atlas, Rise! 9.3/10 - What a massive song that continually pounds on with a powerful, grand theme. I absolutely love it.
So what Metallica songs do I consider a perfect 10? I'd say Creeping Death, Fade to Black, Battery, Master of Puppets, Leper Messiah, Disposable Heroes, and Cyanide. If we got another perfect 10 on the new album, I'd be overjoyed. But if the album has solid high 8's and low 9's, I'd be filled with joy as well.
So far, it seems like the long wait has been worth it. I do think they made a mistake with choosing what track to name the album after. Alas, Rise! would have been a much more epic title.
Nov. 18th can't some soon enough. It's going to be the happiest day of the year.
Jon David Rosten, author of
Order "The Wicked Trees" off of Amazon, today!