Movie Review—‘Arrival’

[Arrival Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Arrival’ (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Paramount Pictures
PG-13
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.

Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.

I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.

The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.

Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.

In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.

You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other movie reviews here.

Movie Review—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’

[The Keeper of Lost Causes Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013)
Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Denmark-Germany-Sweden
Not Rated
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.

Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.

Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.

This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!

I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.

‘Crimson Peak’—A Movie for Another Time

[Crimson Peak Poster]
Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Crimson Peak’ (2015)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Drama | Fantasy | Horror | Mystery | Romance | Thriller
Stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
Universal
Rated R
Log Line: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds—and remembers.

Don’t get me wrong—I liked this movie from the great Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker I have admired since his amazing ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’ And similar to that film, ‘Crimson Peak’ is beautifully crafted, like the china teacup Lucille uses to serve Edith her questionable tea. Unlike del Toro’s earlier effort, though, this movie felt distant and terribly formal to me—the Noble Style vs. a rollicking square dance. And, speaking of dances, there was no better scene to illustrate this aloofness than the one in which Thomas waltzes with Edith in front of her father.

There’s Horror and There’s HORROR
To me, the best horror is visceral, not mannered. Referring back to the Hollywood classics of the 1930s, ‘Crimson Peak’ felt closer to ‘Wuthering Heights’ than ‘Frankenstein.’ Sure, we get to see abominable CG apparitions, but even they are distant. They never really engage with Edith in a way that would induce sheer terror in a cultured young woman. Of course, I realize they are there to warn her, rather than scare her. But still … By now, movie audiences have been exposed to such fare as ‘Saw,’ ‘The Human Centipede’ and ‘House of 1000 Corpses.’ Pretty hardcore stuff, don’t you think? To my way of thinking, resurrecting gothic horror was a bit of a risk for everyone involved. Why did they do it?

That Damned Red Clay
I’ve seen a lot of horror movie devices over the years, but never clay. Usually, desolate places like Cumberland are filled with moors floating in a dense white mist. But clay? This didn’t really work for me. Sure, it was red and resembled blood, but …. They never really did anything with it—even when they had their chance in the cellar, which held huge wooden vats of the stuff. Maybe those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. And as long as we’re talking about missed opportunities, what about Edith’s so-called writing? She managed to bang out one story and never really writes another word during the rest of the film. Okay, the movie is not about her writing, but the story would have worked just as well without it.

The Audience Has Spoken
‘Crimson Peak’ did not do well at the box office. As of this writing, it has earned $75M worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, with a production budget of $55M. Compare that to Warner Bros.’ 2013 hit ‘The Conjuring,’ which to date has grossed $318M worldwide, with a production budget of $20M. To me, ‘Crimson Peak’ was a movie for another audience in another time.

In the trailer, the quote “Gorgeous and terrifying—it electrified me” is attributed to Stephen King. Terrifying? Really? Come on, Steve. I can’t imagine that anything short of an alligator chewing your fingers off one at a time would be terrifying to you. And certainly not this movie. Disturbing, yes—especially concerning the twisted relationship between Thomas and Lucille. Henry James would be proud. As I said, I liked ‘Crimson Peak’ but, sadly, I went into the thing wanting to love it.

Danielle DeVor Reviews ‘Tusk’

[Danielle DeVor]

By Danielle DeVor

In honor of my new book release, The Devil’s Liege, I thought that since it contains some oddness about vampires starving to death and being locked away, writing a review about Kevin Smith’s new movie, ‘Tusk,’ would be a great idea.

[‘Tusk’ Poster]

Firstly, the film is billed as a horror/comedy. It is not. I would consider it “Theatre of the Bizarre” or something to that effect. Were there some funny parts? Sure. But, the weirdness and the connection to horror really pulled it away from the comedic factor. I would put it in the same category as ‘May’ or ‘House of 1000 Corpses.’

If you haven’t read anything about the film, it is about a guy who cohosts a podcast about the weird crap people do. He intends to go to Canada to interview one of these oddities only to find that the guy has died. So, he visits a bar and discovers a note in the bathroom offering free room and board if willing to listen to a lifetime of stories. Too bad, this dude is a serial killer with a bizarre fetish.

Besides the fact that what happens is medically impossible the way it is presented, the film is entertaining to watch. Because I would watch it again, but probably not purchase a copy for my library, I would give it 3.5 stars.

[The Devil’s Liege Cover]

Blurb
Being a vampire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be- in fact, it kind of sucks.

After surviving his duel with Lilith, Mathias thought that he could relax. That is until he discovers that, Nossy, the new king, has been kidnapped.

When the investigating vampires seem to have no clue how to rescue Nosferatu, Mathias must step in. Everything is peachy until Mathias is named the next new king in order to stop the man behind Nossy’s kidnapping from taking over the throne.

Suddenly, his life is not his own again, and Mathias must make a choice: risk his life to find his friend, or sit back and watch disaster unfold.

Buy Links
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble US

About the Author
Named one of the Examiner’s 2014 Women in Horror: 93 Horror Authors You Need to Read Right Now, Danielle DeVor has been spinning the spider webs, or rather, the keyboard for more frights and oddities. She spent her early years fantasizing about vampires and watching ‘Salem’s Lot’ way too many times. When not writing and reading about weird things, you will find her hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, enjoying a mocha Frappuccino. Visit her at danielledevor.wordpress.com.

‘Vampires’ Movie Review

By Danielle DeVor

[Danielle DeVor]First of all, I’d like to thank Steven for letting me guest on his blog. His love of horror is something to be admired.

Now, onto the scary bits. Well, actually not that scary. More like weird, but we’ll get to that in a moment. I am one of those people who tend to try to find the strangest movies to watch, not unlike Norman Reedus’s character in ‘John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns’ (2005). And, yes, I would totally watch a movie that supposedly caused everyone who watched it to go maddeningly insane, but that’s beside the point.

For today’s viewing pleasure, I offer up an odd little film simply entitled ‘Vampires’ (2010). It was directed and co-written by Vincent Lannoo.

[Vampires Poster]

Publicized as the ‘This is Spinal Tap’ of the vampire generation, you get the idea early on that the film is not just going to be a little weird, but odd. We are introduced to a vampire family who has agreed to let a film crew follow them around for a while to see what living as a vampire is like. The father is kind of an old-guard sort of guy. Reminds you of Bela Lugosi a little. The mother is an odd sex-crazed woman who laughs. A lot. Their children… well, that’s another issue entirely. The girl has a huge desire to be human again. The boy is probably the nerdiest vampire I have ever seen, and yet somehow, he sleeps with the wife of the local coven-master.

This is sort of a horror-comedy, but I would classify it as an odd horror film. Again, one that isn’t scary, but more of the type that makes you think in an odd way, so I would say that it does definitely get a reaction. It actually has very little comedy, and what is sort of comedic is very dry. Not to say that I didn’t like the film. People who have hunted down films like ‘Vampire Trailer Park’ (1991) will likely enjoy it as much as I do, but if you are looking for the slick Hollywood type of horror film, this is not the film for you. In fact, I would venture to say this is one of those movies that you either love or hate. There is no in between.

The one thing that stuck with me, and I think was the deciding point that I really loved the movie, is the scene where the vampire girl who wishes to be human simply walks away. The cinematic effect of that scene is striking and poignant.

I give it 4 Stars.

About the Author
Danielle DeVor spent her early years fantasizing about vampires and watching ‘Salem’s Lot’ way too many times. After living briefly in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she moved back to her hometown to write. When not writing and reading about weird things, you will find her hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, enjoying a Mocha Frappuccino. She is also the “Fearless Blogger” for author Tina Moss’s blog.

Her books are available at Amazon:
Tail of the Devil
Constructing Marcus
Sorrow’s Point

You can find Danielle at danielledevor.wordpress.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.