Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. If it’s all too much chaos across the pond, get along to the cinema to escape. This week we have aliens, Vietnam, Napoleon, and a collection of mutants.
In the age of Trump, a “can’t we all learn to understand each other” message is most welcome. That’s what Canadian director Denis Villeneuve serves up in Arrival, a carefully paced first contact film that puts Amy Adams’ linguist centre stage when a collection of mysterious spaceships arrive on earth. Watching her decipher their language amidst beautiful imagery is surprisingly thrilling. Let down a little by an unnecessary hymn to motherhood, it’s a good stab at big, thoughtful sci-fi.
Adapting Philip Roth normally goes wrong. His complex stories unfold in large part inside the head of protagonists, failing to lend themselves easily to a visual medium. As a result it’s brave of Ewan McGregor to take on American Pastoral, Roth’s award-winning novel, for his directing debut. He also stars as Swede Levov, a Jewish glove manufacturer living the perfect American life until his daughter gets swept up in Vietnam protests. Yet it remains a bland, lifeless affair. A good cast including Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning can’t save another failed adaptation.
Enough with modern cinema. The re-release of Abel Gance’s pioneering Napoléon, a film first seen in 1927, offers the opportunity to marvel at his intense biopic all over again. With a fluid camera in amongst the action and unique panoramic shots that make up only part of the bag of tricks employed by Gance, there’s plenty of cinematic grandeur standing the test of time extremely well.
Now to the comfort of your own home. While Marvel very loudly expands its Cinematic Universe, the X-Men have quietly been building their own empire. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, but X-Men: Apocalypse, out now on DVD, is at the stronger end. Oscar Isaac plays the world’s first mutant, hidden since the days of ancient Egypt. His return sparks another desperate battle with Magneto and Professor Xavier in their younger Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy forms. Even better there’s no stupid time travelling!
That’s a wrap once more. We have J.K. Rowling for you next week.