Culture & Travel

Arrival made me cry.

Not because it was sad, but because it gave me more feels than my lizard brain could handle in one sitting. As a consequence, I spent most of its closing 10 minutes with tears in my eyes and a big, goofy grin on my face.

Then, as my wife and I walked out of the theater—both nattering on about our favorite scenes—I experienced that magical sensation that great art can engender: the feeling that the universe had expanded while we were in that darkened room, and that the saturation dial on life had been turned up a notch (or two).

I don’t want to give anything away about the movie, so this really isn’t a review. And, in any case, I think you’re better off going into it knowing as little as possible (a somewhat ironic statement, but you won’t understand why until after you’ve seen the film). Still, if you don’t want to take my word for it, Kenneth Turan at the Washington Post offers a good write-up that doesn’t reveal too much. Here’s a snippet:

“One of the most satisfying things about Denis Villeneuve’s elegant, involving ‘Arrival’ is that it is simultaneously old and new, revisiting many of these alien-invasion conventions but with unexpected intelligence, visual style and heart.”

If you have time this weekend, please consider going to see Arrival. I saw Doctor Strange last weekend and enjoyed it, but, if I’m being honest, I’d have to acknowledge that if you’ve seen one Marvel origin-story movie, you’ve seen them all.

Arrival, on the other hand, is something we don’t see very often—a film with the production values and star power of a blockbuster that somehow manages to retain the intimacy and soul of an indy. It’s my favorite movie of the year so far, edging just ahead of the excellent and criminally under-seen Hell or High Water. These are the types of movies we say we wish Hollywood would make more of, but they won’t fund them if we won’t prove to the number crunchers that there’s a market for well-made films that aren’t afraid to provoke thought while providing entertainment.

Update: I forgot to mention that Arrival is based on a short story by acclaimed author Ted Chiang titled Story of Your Life. It’s a terrifically poignant piece that you can easily tear through in one sitting. I know I suggested above that it would be best to go into the movie knowing as little as possible, but I had read Chiang’s story before seeing Arrival and still found myself on the edge of my seat. If anything, I felt that the movie enriched my understanding of Chiang’s text. All that being said, I still think it would be best to go into the movie in as “unspoiled” a state as possible—in other words, do as I say, not as I do. Then, absolutely give Chiang’s Story of Your Life a read.  It’s currently available on Amazon and the iBooks Store as part of an updated anthology of his works titled, appropriately enough, Arrival.

Go see Ex Machina

Just got back from seeing Ex Machina, the directorial debut from British filmmaker Alex Garland, and my mind is racing. Here’s the trailer:

I went into the movie knowing very little about it beyond the most basic tenets of its premise, and it was great fun to watch it all unfold. I’m going to refrain from a review to give you an opportunity to experience the same sense of discovery. But if you absolutely feel the need to learn more before deciding whether or not to see the film, I’d recommend the critique from New Scientist magazine, which was written by Anil Seth, a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex. Here’s a snippet from his review—and, don’t worry, it’s entirely spoiler free:

It’s a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is just that: a stylish, spare and cerebral psycho-techno-thriller, which gives a much-needed shot in the arm for smart science fiction.

So, in short, if you have even a passing interest in the influence of technology on culture and humanity, see Ex Machina. And, after you’ve seen it, let me know if you think it’s a brilliant piece of speculative fiction or a documentary sent to us from the near future. Shoot your thoughts to @edotkim on Twitter, and we can each try to determine whether the other is human or machine.