A friend and I saw two excellent movies in the theater on Thanksgiving.
Arrival is an intelligent, complex, understated science fiction film. The trailers made it look like a blend of horror and action, but it's really neither. The story focuses on a linguistic expert who's called upon to attempt communication with mysterious extraterrestrial visitors. Refreshingly, the lead role is played by a woman instead of the usual Hollywood default of putting a man into a role when the gender doesn't matter. Amy Adams is fantastic in the part, giving life to a lot of quiet moments, and excelling when letting us see the wheels turn in her character's head. Director Denis Villeneuve has a keen sense for telling a story cinematically, using sounds, images, and editing to share complicated ideas and subtle emotions.
I don't want to give the plot away, but I'll say it's quite clever and reveals a lot with inference instead of bald statements. Arrival is in the top ten or twenty sci-fi films I've ever seen. (My favorite is Blade Runner, and finding out that Denis Villeneuve is the guy directing the Blade Runner sequel makes me less wary of there being a sequel to the strange sci-fi noir classic.) Highly recommended.
Kenneth Lonergan returns with Manchester by the Sea, his first film since the debacle of his ambitious drama Margaret, which was delayed from release by years of studio interference. Manchester deals with some of the ways people handle (or, more accurately, don't handle) grief and loss. The storytelling is elliptical, with flashbacks arriving unannounced and drama unfolding in realistic ways. The invisible structure of the screenplay reminded me a bit of the best of Noah Baumbach — the screenplay is well-crafted, just as in Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Mistress America, but it still feels like we're watching real people live their lives.
Lonergan focuses his story on a man struggling to get by, financially and emotionally. Actors Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams are honest, raw, and unflinching in their portrayal of unflattering characters. Their last scene together is particularly remarkable in its honesty, both from a writing and acting standpoint, all tangled emotions and sentence fragments.
An aspect that stuck out to me in an interesting way was the way the family unit functioned, particularly among Affleck's character and his brother. There was an assumed partnership, helping each other through hard times — details like Affleck's brother insisting on the two of them and the former's son going to buy furniture when Affleck moves in to a new place felt very real.
Manchester by the Sea is a difficult film to watch, and some viewers will find the characters too unlikable, but those who can weather it will be greatly rewarded. Lonergan is a perceptive artist with an understanding of how people break.
My sci-fi webcomic Flesh Machine continues every week at michaelavolio.com! Less subtle than Arrival, but hopefully not too much less complex. Over 150 pages and counting...
I'll be posting today's pages sometime after I get home from work tonight. Below is a sneak peek of the linework from one panel.
Thanks for reading!