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Recent Movies: Sully; Arrival; Things to Come

January 14, 2017

Recent Movies

Sully

Based on the true story of the 2009 emergency airplane landing in New York’s Hudson River: the events following the rescue include a hearing at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which claims that the plane might have landed safely at a nearby airport and avoided endangering those on board.

“Sully” was based on the book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” by Chesley Sullenberger (aka Sully, the flight’s captain) and Jeffrey Zaslow.

The choice of narrative structure was wisely chosen. Instead of beginning with the main event itself, the film starts with the beginning of the NTSB hearings and later shows the emergency landing in flashback. This sets up an unexpected focus: instead of highlighting heroism, the film concentrates on the problems the event triggered and the inner turmoil of Sully himself.

This movie works mainly because it is in the hands of two very able and trusted stalwarts: director Clint Eastwood and lead actor Tom Hanks. The simulation of the emergency landing is as thrilling as expected but there is just as much tension in the NTSB hearings. Here, the viewer is able to see the character behind someone (Sully) who can be extraordinary as he fights back but in a calm way; someone who thinks well and quickly; and also shows humility to acknowledge everyone’s participation in the successful rescue rather than letting himself be singled out. Only someone with the depth and experience of Hanks could pull this off so well.

The closing credits add a special bonus to this fine film. As it has already been mentioned: during that infamous decade, New Yorkers needed good news like this – especially news involving an airplane.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Arrival

The state of Montana is one of twelve places in the world where alien aircrafts have landed. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who is recruited to study and interpret the language used by the aliens. She is assisted by a renowned scientist played by Jeremy Renner.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” will likely always be the benchmark for this genre (UFOs, alien landings). “Arrival” is a competent film with fine moments but it doesn’t feel engaging enough to fill its almost two hours. Indeed, the acting is good and the story is interesting though maybe a bit far-fetched. It also seems to borrow from “Gravity” in which the heroine has a similar difficult past.

The photography of this film is usually in dark tones. The interior scenes always have different levels of darkness. The outdoors scenes are mostly night-time, nightfall, just before dawn, or overcast days. The choice of maintaining darkness is interesting but after a while, it tends to keep the viewer at a distance.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Well, it’s sort of a spoiler. After the release of “The Martian” last year, someone astutely pointed out that that film and “Gravity”  were big-budget Hollywood sci-fi films that involved international co-operation, especially from China, in the rescue attempts. This good image of China seemed to be a way to draw Chinese film-goers to the movie. In “Arrival”, when it became apparent that China was, yet again, involved in an international effort, it was easy to predict one of the outcomes.

RATING:   * * 1/2


Things to Come

Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) is a Parisian high-school philosophy teacher in her sixties. She seems to have an ideal family life. Her husband Heinz (André Marcon) also teaches philosophy at the same school and they have a content family life at home with their two young adult children. As the film progresses, life situations becomes less ideal for Nathalie including the mental and physical decline of her high-maintenance mother (Edith Scob).

The film’s beginning was fascinating. It included school protests against the current state of France; it also included a disagreement Nathalie has with a pair of marketing experts on how her book, written years ago, should be packaged to sell better. These scenes seemed to promise a critique of our modern times. While those themes more or less dissipated after the beginning, “Things to Come” remains an insightful film at other levels.

Yet again, Huppert raises the film to a higher level with her talent and presence portraying a role with which many in her life situation could identify. She seems strangely cool when given bad news but her humanity (and tears) show more clearly when she is alone.

This coolness is especially apparent in her final scene with Marcon. It is amazing how both seem to be having a casual conversation but there is so much bite and sadness in the subtext beneath their words. This scene is quite remarkable.

Director/writer Mia Hansen-Love presents her fine story free of any flash. Sometimes, this subtlety is welcome but this movie might have used just a little more flash to heighten a few scenes. But with such a fine lead player, Hansen-Love might have found this unnecessary. The bonus is the various philosophical discussions (including talk of the events around the 1968 uprising) which Nathalie has with her husband, her classes at school, and a former prized student who now lives in an anarchist commune in the countryside.

RATING:   * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Loving, Cameraperson, Neruda, Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, La La Land, Julieta, Hidden Figures; Rogue One

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