Tag Archives: Joe Walker

Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve)

Stylist for hire. Stylist for hire. Denis Villeneuve is a stylist for hire on Arrival. He assembles a wonderful crew and they all do great work. Joe Walker’s editing is always assured, never flashy. Bradford Young’s photography is phenomenal. Arrival’s got a great color palette. Bored with its beauty or some such aesthetic. Excellent music from Jóhann Jóhannsson, even if it sounds a lot like Michael Nyman’s Wonderland score at times. And great production design from Patrice Vermette.

It’s a shame all this great technical work is on a cheap, manipulative narrative. Eric Heisserer’s got no understanding of narrative pacing, so he needs someone like Villeneuve who can assign tonal shifts to the narrative to move things along. I mean, there’s expository narration in Arrival because it’s got a somewhat lengthy present action for an alien encounter movie and a lot of science the film doesn’t want to make up in detail for the viewer. So, even with expository narration, Heisserer can’t make this thing move. It’s a boulder Villeneuve’s got to get going, then keep going. The style gets it through. The technical skill gets it through.

Until there’s a big reveal and the script gets worse. Arrival isn’t cheap and manipulative in terms of its plotting–actually, if the script worked, the plot would be fine–Heisserer’s cheap and manipulative in the detail, in the contrived events, in the lack of ambition or thoughtfulness. There are big logic wholes and not just because the film’s structured to hide the reveal. And that hide is an exceptionally manipulative–or potentially exceptionally manipulative–device on its own.

Arrival should offer Amy Adams an amazing role. It doesn’t. Worse, Villeneuve doesn’t seem to care. He’s concentrating on the filmmaking, not his actors’ performances. You can’t blame him–the actors have that script dragging them down, all Villeneuve has to do is expertly render it. Adams is fine. She’s good. She’s not great. It’s not a great role. It should be a great role and it isn’t.

Jeremy Renner practically deserves an “and” credit. He’s present but not active. Heisserer and Villeneuve ignore him. The second half’s pacing is wonky and, even though Renner gets the stop narration updating the ground situation, he doesn’t have much of a place in it. He needs a very big place in it given the twist and the hide. Villeneuve needed to deliver here with his two lead and he doesn’t.

Forest Whitaker’s awesome as the army guy who recruits Renner and Adams to talk to aliens. Oh, right; Arrival is about aliens coming to Earth. Whitaker can chew some scenery. It’s kind of a crap part given he doesn’t get any character development, even though its sort of promised. I can’t even get into how cheap Heisserer gets with the end of the second act events. If it weren’t for Villeneuve, they’d be big enough to jar you out.

Arrival is a big disappointment. Not just because of the talented people working on it, but because it’s a fine plot with a bad script and Villeneuve tries to mundanely stylize away that badness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Ted Chiang; director of photography, Bradford Young; edited by Joe Walker; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, David Linde, and Aaron Ryder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Amy Adams (Louise), Jeremy Renner (Ian), Michael Stuhlbarg (Halpern), Tzi Ma (Shang), and Forest Whitaker (Weber).


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Below the Sea (1933, Albert S. Rogell)

Below the Sea really should be good. It’s got a great–somewhat startling when viewed today–opening, it’s got excellent special effects and Albert S. Rogell has some fantastic composition. But it all goes wrong.

The opening is set in 1917 on a German U-boat. It’s carrying gold through the Caribbean and gets sunk following a battle with an American ship. Why the ship’s carrying gold is never explained–not in English anyway. That startling opening is the lack of English. The whole scene on the U-boat plays in German, which makes Below the Sea very different and very unexpected. The prologue’s just great.

Then the descent begins. Frederick Vogeding–the U-boat captain who survives–teams with deep sea diver Ralph Bellamy to recover the gold. There’s a useless sequence with their first attempt to get it, which fails. What’s so strange about this part of the film is how it’s just a time waster. It’s got some impressive storm at sea special effects, but there’s no narrative value.

But it’s a lot better than what follows.

For all the great shots Rogell can compose, he can’t direct actors. Vogeding’s the only principal who turns in a good performance. Fay Wray and Bellamy are both terrible. When their romance begins, their performances only get worse. Writer Jo Swerling seems to think his characters are charming, but neither are. Swerling establishes Bellamy early on as a violent, murderous thug. Exactly the protagonist one wants to spend a movie with. Wray’s character is just annoying and poorly written; she’d be likable if Wray’s performances was any good.

The film’s moderately watchable just because of the treasure hunt aspect, with the fine underwater photography and the nice special effects sequence at the end–Bellamy, in diving suit, versus a giant octopus (to save Wray, of course)–the gravy. And Rogell never disappoints in terms of composition. He’s always framing something beautifully, but the movie just gets worse and worse.

The predictability is a real problem, but worse is the lack of interest in the film’s story. While the treasure hunt aspect is the main plot, there’s a rather interesting subplot about scientific exploration of the ocean. Maybe it isn’t interesting, maybe it only is compared to the terrible romance.

And the romance is a real problem. Wray is presented as a headstrong, independent woman–who needs the rough and tumble Bellamy to break her of that independence. The lack of sympathy the movie tries to kindle for Bellamy is kind of interesting, but not really worth any examination or consideration. Every chance the movie has to excel, it fails. The script’s poor, the leads who should be good are quite the opposite and the director doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

It’s a disappointment to be sure, but I’m not sure if it’s surprising for anything other than the bad performances from Wray and Bellamy, both of whom I expected to be good. I don’t even want to think about how badly they failed chemistry.

That German language opening, however, is real interesting.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert S. Rogell; written by Jo Swerling; director of photography, Joseph Walker; edited by Jack Dennis; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Ralph Bellamy (Steve McCreary), Fay Wray (Diana Templeton), Frederick Vogeding (Captain Von Boulton), Esther Howard (Lily), Paul Page (Bert Jackson), Trevor Bland (Horace Waldridge) and William J. Kelly (Dr. Chapman).


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