For each movie in the “Denis 2049” series, Taylor and Sam will sit down and bounce some thoughts off each other, off-mic. Their brilliant minds will unleash many words. Make of them what you will. This time: “Arrival.”
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Sam. What if I told you there was a movie that’s literally about the fact that written and spoken language is inadequate and that that same movie uses its visual and emotional language to make you want to cry and also watch it over and over again and also hug your parents and also hug everyone you ever meet? And what if I told you this movie happened to be the most well-shot movie of the decade and also tells a fascinating story regardless and also somehow gets better and better every time you watch it?
Would you go see that movie?
Sam: Well, I have some things to tell you, Taylor. That movie does exist. It’s directed by our friend Dilly, and it’s the best movie he’s ever made. It’s called “Arrival,” and if you’ve been living under an egg-shaped rock for two years, it’s a movie about what happens when aliens come to earth and just want to talk. Imagine “Independence Day” (aliens) meets “Lost in Translation” (talking) meets “Bourne Legacy” (Renner). It’s incredible. It’s really, really good. It should have won Best Picture in 2016, and the fact that it didn’t will live in infamy.
So let’s get into it. From the ‘beginning,’ if that’s what you want to call it.
Let me throw a Hepta-thetical at you: Say you’re an adjunct (whatever that means) professor with a steady attendance of 8 semi-eager students. You are yet to have any cancer-stricken daughters or “funny” scientist husbands. You’re reading about some bull crap language no one’s ever cared about when the general of the United States Something Armed Forces walks into your office and tells you that despite the giant ‘No Soliciting’ sign that is our depleted o-zone, giant 7-legged extra-terrestrial oxygen-dependent-or-tolerant walking squids are here and they want to either destroy the earth or ask for its help in 3,000 years and we don’t know which. How quickly do you say, “Why is Forest Whitaker in this movie?”
Taylor: Let me answer your question with a question: Was Forest Whitaker in “Rogue One,” or did we all just collectively imagine that? Another question: What’s the opposite of the “Silence of the Lambs” thing where Anthony Hopkins is in the movie for like 15 seconds but it feels like he’s in it for two hours? In this case, it would be more of a situation where someone was either in the movie or we all collectively imagined it, but in our collective memory, he was only in the movie for 2.5 seconds.
Those questions are unrelated.
Anyway, I think what I’m really here to do is to try to stir things up. Here’s my take: This is the best career Renner performance outside of his cameo on “Flip That House,” and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. He’s perfectly in awe of everything that’s happening, smart, able to talk to aliens (put that on his Tinder profile), and adds a crucial bit of levity that no other Denis movie has ever had. Without light, there is no darkness. Everyone in this movie should have won Oscars. (Just give Forest one for being there.)
Tell me I’m wrong.
Sam: You’re wrong.
Taylor: Okay. Good talk.
Sam: No, listen. Renner is only good in two things: “The Town” and that “Louie” flashback episode where he plays a drug dealer. In those, he plays a dangerous antagonist with a shade of crazy that makes for a really volatile and highly entertaining character. He is neither of those things in most performances and sucks in most performances. But that’s not the hill I want to die on.
What really bothers me is the fact that Denis used him as a crutch. There were parts of this movie that were so beautiful and brilliant that standing on their own would have been captivating and amazing enough. Instead, Renner was shoehorned in with jokes and forced levity and talking. I am generally of the opinion that movies can be improved just by getting rid of a lot of their dialogue. Many movies don’t give the audience enough credit and feel the need to provide unnecessary clarity or exposition. In “Arrival,” Renner provides unnecessary lightness as the audience proxy.
Look at when they go up into the ship for the first time. It’s the best scene of the movie and probably the year and maybe ever. At the beginning of the scene, they go right up to the egg-rock and are rubbing their hands over it in wonder. Renner laughs, and that part is actually good. It’s sincere, amazed laughter. It’s part of the wonderment of the scene because it’s a totally natural reaction. After about a minute of this first interaction with the ship, they slowly move up into it, interspersing cuts from directly above that show the paled-out ground below with views of the dark tunnel above, their orange suits in stark contrast with the desaturated world around them. It’s quiet other than the lift machine’s whine. (It’s obvious how influenced by “2001” Denis is and in all the best ways.) It’s pure and beautiful science fiction because it feels like – truly – anything can happen.
Then, someone cracks a glowstick and throws it up into the air without saying anything because – and this is important – they don’t have to say anything. It’s okay to not have dialogue in a scene like this! Let what’s happening tell you what’s happening. Trust the process. You’ll know what’s going on when you see it happen. The glowstick flies up into the air and starts bouncing upward along the wall as if that vertical wall perpendicular to the ground is actually the ground itself in a truly “oh shi-” type moment that is simple and wonderful and impossible to accomplish with words.
And then Jeremy ‘I can play Jason Bourne, too’ Renner says, “Yeah, that just happened.” This is clearly supposed to be funny. WHY?? Is it supposed to be comedic relief? From what exactly? Does Denis think we’re bored? Does he think we’re confused? It’s a freakin’ awesome moment, and it’s dampened by Renner unnecessarily trying to be funny. Renner goes on to infect the rest of the scene with his ‘oops, I’m goofy and out of place’ unprofessionalism and almost ruins it. His character serves no purpose other than to create the child that needs to die of cancer.
Taylor: Welp. I guess we’ll have to fight next time I see you (remind me).
I will admit readily that Renner is the central figure in the worst part of the movie, namely when he whispers in Amy Adams’ ear, “Do you wanna make a baby?” Boy, could I talk about how awkward and poorly written that bit was. Who asked for THAT is my real question. But I stand by my original overall argument (despite serving up evidence to the contrary).
Really, I just find myself overwhelmed by this movie. The score, the cinematography, the production design, the performances, it’s got it all. What else can we even say besides, “Hey dummy, go see this movie”?
Sam: There’s nothing more to say. Go see “Arrival,” dummy. Hurry up! Aliens are gonna need our help in 3,000 years and we may be busy!
Penultimate Denis Rankings:
- “August 32nd”
Next up: “Blade Runner 2049“