“Arrival”

What would it be like to have no beginning, middle, or end? What language might support a non-linear way of relating to the world?  Would living without a goal be ecstatically supported? Would grief be eradicated, or at least made easier to bear?

Philosophically, these ideas are just brushed once across the canvas of Director Denis  Villeneuve’s sci-film “Arrival”. What is done is that we are toyed  with flash-forwards instead of flashbacks. It is tricky, inventive and confusing. We hear our protagonist say, “Memory is a strange thing. We Are bound by time and its order.” Then we see hazy dream-like images: a baby, a small girl. We hear the phrase, ” Come back to me.” The viewer is set up to think we are in a flashback: that Prof. Banks has lost her daughter to illness is implied. We again hear a voice over: “I’m not sure I believe in beginnings and endings, or in moments that design your life.”

Amy Adams is perfect as Dr. Louise Banks. Her facial structure easily bends to curiosity, apprehension, and awe. Unlike Adam’s role in ” Nocturnal Animals”, we can see her thinking. She is a linguist of the highest calibre. Her inductive reasoning skills are fun to watch; and,  her controlled emotional responses to both her daughter’s illness, her divorce, and her mother’s telephone calls are universally relatable. Picking her battles wisely, she can hold her own politically and in the classroom.

We were told that Louise’s first husband was a scientist. We think  she lost a daughter, Hannah. When physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) falls in love with Louise’s bravery, brains, and compassion, we think she has a chance to start over. Then, we come to understand that Hannah will be their child.

The script written by Eric Hesserer is based on one of Chinese-American sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s 1998 short stories. The extraterrestials are tentacled octopi. They use inkblot images to converse. They arrive in huge, spherical,  gray eggs, composition unknown. Confusion  over translations  “offer tool” or “use weapon” causes much of the world tension. A renown linguist is needed to ask why they have come. Besides, “language is the first weapon drawn in  a conflict.”

“Arrival” ‘s first forty minutes are well-paced and engrossing: clouds whip and cellos sound. The mid-section lags and  feels repetitive. The script does not lead us anywhere but to the maxim that the world needs to work together in the interest of humanity. The aliens have delivered twelve puzzle pieces to countries around the globe: China, Somalia, Russia and Pakistan are singled out for their contributions and world view. The United States and Russia are diplomatically drawn, too.

Besides the superb acting of an oft  pony-tailed Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker add something special to the cast. Renner,  a former make-up artist and singer, now actor and producer, starred in “The Hurt Locker”. Here he both charms, is charmed and vomits on camera. Whitaker, stellar in “The Crying Game” and “The Last King of Scotland”, knows how to mobilize his team.

Enjoy all the circular logograms, the non-linear typography,and the way another civilization prepares  for the next 3,000 years by gifting its language.

“Southpaw”

Ever since I read Edward Hoagland’s second novel “The Circle Home” in 1965, I have been drawn to boxing as a metaphor for slugging out a life. “Scrappy” might be the adjective that sticks best. In Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie, “Southpaw” he plays the scrappy kid,who made it out of the orphanage with a partner who stayed by him,even when he was incarcerated. Now married,Billy Hope and Mo (Rachel McAdams) are living the “good life” with pergolas and pools and canopied beds. Their ten-year-old daughter, Leia (Iona Laurence)is protected and cherished.Then fate intervenes as screenwriter Kurt Sutter follows the typical story arc of falling from grace and redeeming oneself.

The dialogue and the storyline are the weakest parts of the film,and the great cinematography can not really save it, even though photography director Mauro Fiore choreographs some stunningly fast montages of gauze wrapped hands, blood-vessel-broken eyes, and neck-snapping punches and upper-cut jabs.

As Light Heavy Weight Champion of the World,Gyllenhaal has worked to look the part. His musculature is completely different from his last highly acclaimed role in “The Nightcrawler”. His neck and abs are impressive. His arm tattoos reading “Fighter” and “Father” set his roles. “Fear No Man” is inked on his back in the same font used in the initial credits.

Billy ends his career ignominiously by hitting a referee. The shot of him naked and alone sitting on a white-tiled,shower floor and crying out,”Anyone still here?” is an example of the dialogue. “I feel like I broke her heart” and ” My wife would have liked you” are other  examples of his simple declarative sentences. But one comes to a “fight movie” to see the sweat spume and the blood fly.  Here  the sound of the strikes and jabs is what you will remember.

The score is by the late James Horner, and the film is dedicated to his memory. Eminem has a new song heard as one of these  famous montages flick on and off the screen. The beat was good,but I could not make out the lyrics.

A social conscience of sorts is attempted with the character of Tic Wills (Forest Whitaker).He becomes Billy’s trainer and come-back manager who organizes charity bouts and teaches young street kids disciplined sport. Billy who has been dubbed “The Great White Dope” tells Wills, “I can handle the rules. I grew up in the system.” It is this same system that Billy wants to keep his daughter out of. But provisional custody is court ordered. Naomi Harris plays Angela Rivera,a social worker who shows professional caring and warmth. Oona Laurence,likewise, is painfully believable with her anger-crossed arms answering the question “Is that your Dad?” with her sad “I don’t know anymore.”

I was basically disappointed in “Southpaw”. Scriptwriting like,”Come on,baby, get off those ropes” leave me punch-drunk and I want to go home. And the boy named “Hoppy” because his mother liked bunnies was as sad as his killing. Sorry, but Clint Eastwood did a better job with his “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004.