Weekend Movies: Close Encounters

One new must-see film storms theaters this weekend. However, I’m guessing that only half of the moviegoers who see it will leave as head-over-heels in love with it as critics are. Those folks have two other new options: a PG-13 thriller and the season’s first Christmas comedy.

Although there are three of them, each of this week’s wide releases is getting a screen count in the low 2,000s. The largest of the trio is ‘Almost Christmas‘, a holiday ensemble picture with a very large cast. The poster touts 11 notable actors: Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps, Danny Glover, John Michael Higgins, Romany Malco, Mo’nique, Nicole Ari Parker, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Jessie T. Usher and DC Young Fly. Their characters make up a dysfunctional family that comes together for Christmas following the passing of their mother – which means that you can expect the movie to be full of comedic shenanigans and close with sugary sentimentality. ‘Tis the season.

Science fiction films rarely make it beyond the technical categories at the Oscars, but ‘Arrival‘ just might change that. From the director of ‘Sicario‘, ‘Prisoners‘ and ‘Enemy‘ comes one of the greatest first contact movies in years. The film is an unsensationalized story of an alien introduction on Earth – only these aliens don’t show up with guns blazing. Instead, they park a dozen of their huge hovering ships 20 feet above the ground and invite humans aboard. When mankind is unable to communicate with the extraterrestrial beings, a pair of scientists (Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner) are brought in by the military to crack their language. Superbly written, acted and executed, ‘Arrival’ is well worth relishing. Be prepared to think about it long after the credits end.

It’s been some time since Naomi Watts led a film, but she’s back with ‘Shut In‘. While she’s great, unfortunately the movie looks as generic as can be. Watts plays a child therapist whose life is turned upside down by a car crash that kills her husband and leaves their only son catatonic. She takes a new child patient into her home, but when a blizzard rolls over town, he runs away into the ice storm, never to be found again – that is, until he starts haunting their house. Based on that plot and the line, “Something’s going on and it’s not just in my head – I can prove it!” uttered in the trailer, I’m pretty sure we’re looking at another ‘Secret Window‘ here.

‘Arrival’ isn’t the only new release poised for Oscar love. ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk‘ is only opening on two screens: one in Los Angeles and one in New York. Those two screens are equipped to project the film unlike any other theater across North America. You see, Ang Lee went full steam ahead and shot the movie in 4k 3D at 120 frames-per-second. If you want to see ‘Billy Lynn’ the way its directed intended, pack your bags and get ready for a road trip, because it won’t play that way when it opens at theaters near you. That said, festival reviews claim that the High Frame Rate makes the otherwise great movie unwatchable, which is why Sony has dumbed it down to 24 fps for its impending nationwide expansion.

‘Billy Lynn’ tells the dramatic story of a 19-year-old war hero’s return from Iraq. As he’s welcomed home at a televised football game’s half-time show, we see his flashbacks to the gritty war in which he served. Although the title character is played by a first-time actor, he’s surrounded by a well-known ensemble cast including Garett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, Kristen Stewart and Tim Blake Nelson.


  1. Al

    “From the director of ‘Sicario‘, ‘Prisoners‘ and ‘Enemy‘…”

    Umm… Don’t forget about ‘Incendies’, which is unquestionably his best film!

    Seriously, why does ‘Incendies’ get no love?!

    Even in the theatrical review, Sicario and Enemy were mentioned, but not ‘Incendies’.


  2. Connor

    Going to see Arrival on Tuesday. Though Sicario left me cold, Prisoners and Incendies are easily among the best movies of this decade and I can’t wait to see it.

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