Monday, October 31, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Arrival and The Edge of Seventeen

Denis Villeneuve has rapidly emerged as one of Hollywood's most notable filmmakers. Elevating his craft from the ranks of indie filmmaking to mainstream motion pictures, Villeneuve's most recent works include Prisoners and Sicario. This year, however, the director is angling for a clever and artistic entry with his newest endeavor, Arrival, in hopes of capturing some awards season glamour.

Five-time Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams (now, let that sink in for a bit) stars as Louise, a linguistics expert summoned by the United States Military following the arrival of unidentified spacecrafts across 12 different areas of the world. Tasked with making contact and learning the intentions of these aliens, Louise and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) try to unlock the secrets of their foreign language before a global catastrophe unravels.

Make no mistake about it, Arrival represents an artsy and cerebral effort merely using its sci-fi backdrop as a portal to its mind-bending story. Eric Heisserer's adapted screenplay delivers second level thinking that highlights a beautiful complexity within the framework of the plot. Yet, unlike ambiguous and open-ended tales of a similar style, Arrival reveals its entire hand well enough to allow the viewer to piece together every inch of its impressive story. Both leading lady Amy Adams and supporting star Jeremy Renner deliver fine performances, and I anticipate Adams being in line for her 6th trip to the Oscar finals.

Despite the film's exceptional cast and wonderfully original story, Arrival struggles to entertain. A sluggish opening struggles to gain momentum as the feature crawls to its powerful third act. Rather than engaging its audience with typical other worldly sci-fi elements, Villeneuve obsesses with a poetic vision that unquestionably looks amazing, yet fails to grab the general viewer's attention. There are plenty of aspects surrounding Arrival that are worth marveling at. However, just be warned that the film is more of a cerebral and tame drama piece than an upbeat sci-fi adventure.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

The 25th annual Philadelphia Film Festival found a commonality among many of its Centerpieces and Spotlight selections, they featured heavy themes and darker stories. Thankfully, one of the festival's late entries, the coming-of-age comedy, The Edge of Seventeen, helped lighten the mood with its witty situational humor and strong collection of characters.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) struggles to socialize with anyone at her school other than her best friend from 2nd grade, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), and an awkward classmate named Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Yet, when Nadine finds her biggest confidant in bed with her older brother (Blake Jenner), their unlikely romantic spark leaves her friendless and unable to handle life on her own.

The Edge of Seventeen represents a refreshing coming-of-age film that's carried quite well True Grit star, Hailee Steinfeld. She creates a realistic, albeit flawed, character that resonates well with the audience. Teenage years are a time for self-loathing and expanding beyond your comfort zone, both of which are evident in Kelly Fremon Craig's winning directorial debut. A strong script comprising of raw emotion, genuine laughs and everything in between helps support a long list of stellar performances. The most notable of which comes from veteran actor Woody Harrelson who stars as Nadine's favorite teacher. Harrelson dominates the film with striking one-liners and a comedic comfort zone that we've come to appreciate over his storied career. The Edge of Seventeen isn't the most groundbreaking film of its kind, but it's a worthwhile watch that entertains with remarkable ease.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

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