There seems to be a trend growing in science-fiction so far this decade. Not only have several filmmakers from Alfonso Cauron (Gravity, 2013) to Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, 2014) to Ridley Scott (The Martian, 2015) resurrected interest in the space race, but this year alone seems to see a return to extra-terrestrial activity. And we're not talking about pot-bellied botanists or men in black. (Okay, maybe a little on that last one.)
Netflix's smash-hit series "Stranger Things" centers on the disappearance of a boy, as well as a mysterious girl and a malevolent creature, while police, government agents, and friends pursue them all. The series is a clever and engrossing homage to 1980s pop culture, particularly the sci-fi/horror films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, the novels of Stephen King, and "Dungeons & Dragons". (You can read my post on the series here.) Now there's director Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, which stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as a linguist and a theoretical physicist who make contact with aliens. And earlier this year, director Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special featured Michael Shannon as the father of a young boy with mysterious otherworldly powers, and who's being pursued by government agents and cult members.
|Amy Adams in Arrival|
The premise of Arrival involves mysterious spaceships that land in twelve different countries around the world. As the film opens, we glimpse moments in the life of linguistics professor Louise Banks (the always incredible Adams, in perhaps her best role to date), specifically her life from her young daughter's birth up until her unexpected death, leading to a life of loneliness and bleakness. (The accompanying string score is profound and emotional.) Even her lakehouse home is dark, bleak, and lifeless (a color scheme that seems to permeate most of the film).
The film jumps to a lecture hall Louise teaches at, with a clear lack of communication among her students--that is, until news spreads about twelve mysterious egg-shaped spaceships that land in different areas around the world. Military specialists soon arrive with a recording they need Louise's expertise on, and eventually she's shipped to a base in Montana, where one of the ships (known as "shells") hovers nearby. The military's objective (as any person or organization or government branch would want to know) includes finding out what these beings want, where they're from, and why they're here? Theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner, in an equally engaging role) wonders, "Are they scientists or tourists?" How do they communicate? How do they think?
|Jeremy Renner in Arrival|
All political controversy aside, the shot of the UFOs is one of the most unforgettable images on screen this year. The same for the crew's containment suits (rivaling what Ridley Scott did in The Martian and Prometheus). Even the sight of the aliens (called "heptapods") is a cross between squids and trees, with foggy, cloud-like symbols that represent their language. And the score by Johann Johannsson is haunting and mysterious, just as it is evocative.
|Amy Adams makes contact in Arrival|
A MIDNIGHT SPECIAL PUTS A NEW SPIN ON THE CHASE ADVENTURE
|Jaeden Lieberher in Midnight Special|
This science-fiction drama about a father (Roy Tomlan) and son (Alton Meyer) on the run from government agents as well as cult members has the elements that make up a worthy chase movie, as Alton shows he has extra-terrestrial powers (light beaming from his eyes and hands, hence the goggles, and catching radio signals), and Roy's objective is to get him to a specific place at a specific time on a Friday ahead.
|Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, and |
Joel Edgerton in Midnight Special
|Michael Shannon and Jaeden Lieberher in Midnight Special|
WRITER'S NOTE: A featurette for this film can be found on YouTube titled, "Shine a Light" (watch here) while a track over the credits, titled "Midnight Special," contains the lyrics, "Shine a light on me."