Advise & Consent (Otto Preminger, 1962). Story involves a president trying to get his nominee for Secretary of State through the Senate. It’s fascinating to look at Congress as it might have been so many years ago. Every senator is a white male, with the exception of one man from Hawaii, and one woman, played by Betty White in her feature film debut. The Republicans and Democrats get along quite nicely in comparison to how it is today. The two worst things you can be are a Communist or a homosexual. The Commie is played by Henry Fonda, and we’re so used to seeing him as the moral center that it’s disconcerting. His character wasn’t a real Commie, of course, just someone who had a brief fling in his college years, but in 1962 that’s enough (plus, he believes in peace, of all things). The gay senator commits suicide rather than reveal his secret. Most of the cast underplays, leaving the hammy stuff to Charles Laughton as a good old Southern boy. Laughton makes the most of his final film. Most of the key players are based on real-life politicians, which might have been easier to spot when the film came out. It’s all a bit silly, and I’m not sure how accurate is its representation of the Senate, but it moves along, never boring through its 139 minutes. Preminger even finds room for Burgess Meredith and Will Geer, two victims of the blacklist. 7/10.
Arrival (Denis Villenueve, 2016). I’ve liked the previous movies I’ve seen from Villenueve (Sicario, Prisoners, and especially Incendies). I wrote of Incendies, “It’s the individual scenes, and the growing sense of discovery, that makes Incendies special. The acting by female leads Lubna Azabal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin adds immensely to the film’s power. The ending doesn’t make a lot of sense on a logical scale, but it delivers an honest emotional punch just the same.” I felt the same about Arrival, which benefits from Amy Adams’ controlled, inquisitive performance as a linguist asked to communicate with aliens. Arrival is another film in the category of “Praised for What It Isn’t”. It’s a story about aliens coming to Earth, but there is hardly any action. The special effects are mostly limited to the alien ships, which are lovely and look like flying saucers turned on their side. Most of the lead actors avoid overdoing it. All of this helps, but there isn’t enough here to warrant excessive praise. Still, Adams may be looking at another Oscar nomination (she already has five). At one point, she tries to communicate with the aliens by holding up a sign that reads “HUMAN” and pointing to herself. And you think, yes, this person is a human, and it’s good to see something so basic in what could easily turn into a cheesy sci-fi flick. I’ve avoided discussing the plot, which is of the “Must See It More Than Once” school of inscrutability. I’m sure there are already websites devoted to explaining Arrival, but I’m not much more interested than I was about the 2001 theories. But thanks to Adams, it was easy enough to just roll with Arrival, even if for me, it was much ado about not much. 7/10.