Resin Heroes

Arrival (2016) movie review



Grade: A-

As I watched the movie Arrival I couldn’t help but thinking I’ve seen this all before. The main concept of the story here, that aliens have arrived on the Earth and it’s up to a group of scientists to communicate with them to discover if they’ve arrived with good or bad intents is a standard sci-fi trope. There’s been loads of TV series like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits and movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind that have dealt with this before.

However, just because this has all been done before doesn’t mean Arrival isn’t one heck of a good film and the plot even twists this well-worn concept enough to make the story new and fresh.

Here, seed-shaped spacecraft have arrived over twelve points across the planet and it’s up to linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and army officer Weber (Forest Whitaker) to find out why. The aliens written language consists of these wobbly, almost painterly circles, and as Banks slowly figures the language out she finds more mysteries than answers. And when the Chinese military begin plans to attack the craft hovering over their territory when they don’t like the answers they’re given by the aliens, the question is if Banks can decode the meaning behind the language fast enough, and if her translations are correct before the US military follows suit.

Arrival has gotten a lot of buzz since it was first released and has been nominated for eight Academy Awards. All of which is simply amazing for a story that I can’t imagine would have ever been made as a movie even a few years ago before the current sci-fi boom. I liked most of Arrival, the first half is good enough if a bit typical sci-fi. But the last half, especially the ending, is pure genius. The ending takes Arrival into a completely unexpected direction, taking a so-so story and elevating it to a whole new level.

Arrival is one of those movies that when it ended I felt like I needed to watch again just to see everything I’d missed the first time through, even if everything I missed was hiding in plain sight all along.




The best movie & TV posters of 2016



The best posters of 2016 were for the movie Suicide Squad.

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Suicide Squad

One of the ways I judge the best posters of the year is if I’d like to have them hanging on the walls of my office — and boy-oh-boy would I love to see the posters for the movie Suicide Squad hanging there. What I think works so well about them is they break a lot of design “rules” by using elements like hyper “acidic” colors — or colors that a painting professor I had used to say, “were so intense they hurt my teeth” — and diverging design components that you’re not supposed to use.

Which, in lesser hands, could make the posters look amateurish, but instead makes the ones for Suicide Squad stand out from the flood of superhero posters that have come before. Posters for similar movies have, not so much failed, as failed to live up to expectations, in that they all kind’a look the same. I don’t think anyone would mistake the Suicide Squad poster for, say, a Captain America poster. And in an industry that seems to generate lots of campaigns that look the same as every other poster campaign, the ones for Suicide Squad have a wholly unique aesthetic.

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Arrival

I am a sucker for sci-fi movies. I’ll give just about any movie or TV series labeled “science-fiction” a try as long as it looks interesting enough. And the posters for the movie Arrival makes that movie look reeeeeeeally interesting. They feature these colossal alien ships that look a bit like a cross between a squished hockey puck and a sunflower seed impossibly hovering in the sky. And the whole campaign puts these ships at different locals around the world which adds to the immense scale of the ships and the movie as well.

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Better Call Saul

I’m a big fan of the TV series Better Call Saul and I only wanted to see the premiere of the second season even more after the release of these posters. Here, the character of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is walking across the street at a crazy angle, and it’s just him that’s being affected by the slant. I love all the taglines this poster could have but doesn’t. Like, “It’s not easy being bent” or even, “Becoming a criminal is an uphill battle.” And the poster for Better Call Saul on Netflix is just as good with Odenkirk sitting oddly on a bench with the tagline, “The truth is how you look at it” above.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The poster for last years’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens was all right. It seemed to be a modern version of those classic Drew Struzan Star Wars posters of old, except that instead of Struzan traditionally illustrating the posters someone created a photo illustration. And while the poster for Rogue One is a photo illustration too, I think where that poster is unexpected whereas The Force Awakens is in line with what’s come before is that Rogue One has its own unique look and color scheme. So much so that I don’t think anyone could mistake it for another Star Wars film.

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Stranger Things

The poster for the breakout TV hit of the summer Stranger Things is just as cool as the other posters on this list but in its own way. This poster is illustrated in the Struzan style and has just enough nostalgia factor that even if the series weren’t a good as it is I’d still be a fan of this poster.

Captain America: Civil War & Star Trek: Beyond

I thought the posters for Captain America: Civil War and Star Trek: Beyond were top notch too. The poster for Captain America takes a closeup shot of Cap and Iron Man battling each other from the perspective of Cap — and there’s a companion poster out there too that shows this action from opposite angle. And the poster for Star Trek: Beyond is so different then the other modern Star Trek posters while at the same time utilizing design elements from classic Star Trek posters that it’s breathtaking. Interestingly enough, the poster doesn’t have Star Trek anywhere on it, we just get the Enterprise swooping on a field of color with the words “Beyond” below.

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The X-Files

The X-Files revival TV series might have been a bit of a mixed bag, but that doesn’t mean that the poster campaign released to promote the show wasn’t creepy as all get-out! “I still want to believe” indeed!

Deadpool

I don’t think I could call myself a true poster aficionado if I didn’t include at least one poster for the movie Deadpool on this list, the most PG of which features the title character making the heart sign with his hands with “Feel the love this Valentine’s Day” below.




Direct Beam Comms #36



TV

Stranger Things – Grade: A

6f1c7f40664543.5787e03bf042cEvery so often a series comes along that’s so good and unexpected that’s like a bolt of lighting to the head — and this year that series is Stranger Things on Netflix.

Stranger Things takes place in the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983 where one dark and stormy night a boy goes missing while at the same time a mysterious girl known as “11” or “El” for short (Millie Brown) appears. El isn’t quite normal — she can only speak in very short words/sentences, is wearing only hospital garb and, most of weirdly of all, has telekinetic powers. On her trail is Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) who was trying to use El’s powers for his own purposes and wants his property returned. But on El’s side are a group of misfit boys who’re looking for their missing friend while at the same time discovering just what El’s capable of.

Best of all Stranger Things stars the wonderful Winona Ryder playing the missing kids mother, David Harbour as the town sheriff and Natalia Dyer as Nancy, Shannon Purser as Barb, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan…

I think that’s the first thing that Stranger Things co-creators the Duffer Brothers got right — they had a great cast and great characters. And let that to be a lesson to other series creators out there: if you have a great cast and great characters you’re more than halfway to having a classic series.

And that’s exactly what Stranger Things is: a modern day classic.

Stranger Things has taken flack from some corners saying that it’s a nostalgia driven show. That it borrows too freely from what’s come before and isn’t that original. Which is totally true. But only if those same people who ding Stranger Things for taking elements from what’s come before are also willing to ding things like the band The Rolling Stones from feely borrowing from the blues or Nirvana from punk.

I’ve never understood why when bands “borrow” from the past and are successful they can be considered top acts, but when movies or TV series do the same thing — well, apparently those are only supposed to be completely original, new and unique.

Which is total hooey. Is there anything these days that’s totally new and unique?

Sure, Stranger Things borrows elements from the works of Stephen King and some of the visual stylings of Steven Spielberg — though much less than talk and internet marketing would lead you to believe. It also uses elements from slasher horror movies of the 1980s, especially how some of their scenes are constructed, and a bit from the manga/film Akira too.

Which, admittedly, could be the recipe for disaster. Except here what the Duffer Brothers did with Stranger Things was rather than to just copy those elements they created something new with them. Stranger Things shares no direct link with any Stephen King story but it feels like it could, and the same goes with the films of Steven Spielberg too. There are certainly visual cues from Spielberg’s movies like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stand By Me here, but on the whole Stranger Things is its own thing that’s building upon previous works of others.

Just like The Rolling Stones and just like Nirvana and just like 1,000 other pop culture things have built new things on the previous works of others.

My only concern with Stranger Things is that recently Neflix has strongly hinted that a second season of the series will soon be in the works. My concern is that the first season ended so perfectly that it’s this brilliant encapsulated story with just the right amount of questions answered and, more importantly, unanswered. I’d hate to see the Duffer Brothers come back and do a season two of the series that was a let down to the first. I’m not sure I want or need all the questions raised in the first season to be answered. Some things are better left to the imagination.

Then again, what do I know? Here I am giving suggestions about a series I hadn’t even heard about a few months ago that knocked my socks off this summer. My guess is that whatever the Duffer Brothers do next is going to be interesting regardless of which angle they take to tell it.

Now I feel like I need to go re-watch/read the Akira series and the movie The Mist again to keep on this Stranger Things high!

Angie Tribeca season 2 – Grade: B

angie-tribeca-tbs_article_story_largeThe second season of the TBS series Angie Tribeca finished this week. I enjoy this goofy series that’s in the vein of an Airplane or Naked Gun but I think I enjoyed the first season a bit more. The second season of the Angie Tribeca told a season long throughout all the episodes which felt a little forced to me. The series is essentially a comedy where goofy fun takes precedence over plot but having a season long story means that plot becomes important.

I think where Angie Tribeca works well is when the episodes are just off the wall humor where literally anything can happen between scene to scene let alone episode to episode, so to have to follow the plot to a story was a bit constraining.

A third season of Angie Tribeca is set to debut sometime in 2017 and I’m genuinely interested to see where the series goes from here.

Animal Kingdom season 1 – Grade: B-

14ANIMALS-master768The last year has seen a slew of darker series that all takes place in California. Always before California series used to focus on the sun, beaches and fun of the state but lately a lot of series have been taking place in a much different version of California. These bleaker series focus on a dirty, and dangerous place that’s as likely to give you a staph infection from swimming in the polluted waves as send you home in a body bag when you’re caught in the middle of a drug/guns/whatever deal gone wrong.

These are series I call “California Dark” like True Detective, Flaked, Sons of Anarchy and Animal Kingdom, the first season of which wrapped up last week on TNT.

Animal Kingdom, based on the Australian movie of the same name, follows the Cody family who live in Oceanside, California and make their living by stealing and robbing from unsuspecting folks. Thrown into this den is “J” (Finn Cole), forced to live with his uncles and a matriarch nicknamed “Smurf” (Ellen Barkin) who controls her sons through manipulation, deceit and guile. If J is somewhat an innocent then his uncles are hardened criminals who’ll take whatever they can get their hands on and kill whomever when necessary. But after they accidentally kill an off-duty police officer moonlighting as a security guard, the crew is thrown in disarray since they no longer have enough loot to sustain themselves and now have the police actively looking to bust up the gang after one of their own was murdered.

Animal Kingdom started off strong enough for me to watch the entire series, but I have to admit I lost interest in the show somewhere about the halfway mark. To me the series existed in their weird netherworld between two styles of show. On the one hand there’s similar series like True Detective that goes into the deep end of dark and almost play out like a horror series. On the other hand there’s network series like CSI or Chicago P.D. that are so light and unrealistic they’re soap operas with cops. And I think that Animal Kingdom fits somewhere in between these two styles. There’s a hard edge to the show, but it’s also very light in other ways.

Animal Kingdom plays out like these lite shows when it comes to the crimes the Cody family pulls off. The two big ones of the season, the first where they rob a jewelry mart of expensive watches and the final where they steal bails of cash from the US military, play out like scenes from a James Bond movie. Where there are so many intricate steps to the plan that if just one thing would go wrong the entire crew would spend the rest of their lives in jail. And in a series like Animal Kingdom while things do go wrong, they go wrong in a very TV like way.

It doesn’t help matters that in Animal Kingdom the stakes are never made quite clear for the J character. In the movie he’s in mortal danger from his uncles when he’s the only witness to the murder of two police officers they committed. In the TBS series he seems to be in danger, but not much. Here, it’s like the uncles may kill J, or they may send him out for ice cream.

I think where the movie version succeeded so well was in that palpable sense of danger for J. He’s just a kid and doesn’t really know what he’s gotten himself into — or even when he does he really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. But the TV version replaces that danger with a lot of flashy toys for the Cody family and minor heists as the uncles try to keep themselves in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.

I think when the TV version of Animal Kingdom succeeded was when it went dark. I especially liked Shawn Hatosy who played the unhinged just out of jail and very dangerous uncle “Pope” very well. He’s the kind of character you wouldn’t want to be around but you’d be afraid to leave his side lest he get it into his head that you have something against him and come after you one night when you least expect it. And he does something so unexpected in the second to last episode of the first season it made me shutter.

Animal Kingdom has already been renewed for a second season on TNT set to debut sometime in 2017. Depending on what else is on at the time it premiers I may, or may not watch the second season of the show. It’s not bad but it’s not something people are going to be talking about for years to come either.

Luke Cage promo

Movies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Trailer

“The world is coming undone — Imperial flags reign across the galaxy.”

Arrival trailer

Books

Out this Tuesday is the final book to list all of the Topps Star Wars trading cards from the 1970s and 1980s; Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Three. You may have to be a die hard fan of Star Wars, the original trilogy and of trading cards to want this book, but luckily I am. 😉

The Reading & Watch List

This week in pop-culture history

  • 1954: James Cameron, writer/director of Terminator, Aliens and Avatar is born
  • 1986: The Fly opens in theaters
  • 1987: The Monster Squad premiers