Michael Bergeron
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Film Update: “Arrival” and more

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Arrival begins with alien spaceships appearing at a dozen locations around the world. A specialist in linguistics, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) recruited by the military because she has top-secret clearance, finds herself on a team making first contact with the inhabitants of the floating orbs.

Each country with a hovering spacecraft has its own team of specialists and one of the points of Arrival is how these disparate nations must work together to solve the puzzle of the alien’s appearance.

Arrival confounds all expectation of how a science fiction thriller should unwind. We’re not quite at the subliminal excess of Interstellar, but then again we’re face to face with the kind of theology-is-the-image concept that fueled films like 2001 (1968) and Solaris (1972). That’s not to say that Chris Nolan is a lightweight compared to Kubrick or Tarkovsky – after all look how much the current Doctor Strange owes to the bold production design of Inception.

Director Denis Villeneuve will never be accused of holding the audiences’ collective hand while the complicated plot unwinds. Arrival obfuscates its narrative in a way makes a couple of Villeneuve’s American films (Sicario, Prisoners) easy to understand.

Arrival takes the worldview of Dr. Banks. As she learns the alien language over the course of the film, so does the audience as they begin to understand Arrival’s elliptical plot twists. Here’s a SPOLIER: By learning the alien language a person begins to see all time as one. In other words, time is like a mountain range and if looked down upon it you can see the past, the present and the future all at once. Kurt Vonnegut already mined this premise in novels like Cat’s Cradle and Sirens of Titan. You don’t need to understand the Sapir-Whorf linguistic hypothesis to truly enjoy Arrival, but rather come to the movie with an open mind and not be taken aback by the expert genre distortion on display.

Before the Flood documents global warming in a tight and tidy package. The doc is directed by Fisher Stevens and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio opens doors because of his celebrity and this gives the filmmakers unprecedented access to areas of the world where massive amounts of ecological damage are occurring. A couple of such sequences show miles and miles of deforestation in places as different as the Canadian Arctic and the Amazon rainforest. DiCaprio doesn’t come off like a scientist but rather like a citizen reporter who just happens to have the clout to interview President Clinton (archival footage), President Obama and Pope Francis. Before the Flood can be viewed for free on Youtube.

King Cobra takes a sordid story of crime set in the world of gay pornography, mixes some histrionic performances by name actors and reduces the whole affair to a melodramatic unrated soap opera. Christian Slater and James Franco are gay porn producers with different agendas and a similar interest in a young upcoming actor named Brent Corrigan. Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone co-star. Much of the direction comes off as choppy and uneven. Perhaps not surprisingly the events depicted, which include a brutal murder and various double-crosses, actually happened. King Cobra plays exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park.