Quick Hit: Heady, provocative science fiction.
Make no mistake – I think there will be certain people that leave the theater once Alex Garland’s newest science fiction creation reaches its climax. It’s an extremely divisive ending, one that left me holding on to thoughts of it for days afterward. Barring a second viewing, I doubt that I’ll be able to stop thinking about it. However, outside of the ending is crafted a solid adaptation (if a bit streamlined) of Jeff Vandermeer’s novel.
Recommended to me by previous “Dinner and a Movie” writer Ryan, Annihilation (the book) is part one of the Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s an extremely weird series that focuses deep into the psychological surrounding Area X, an area that is cordoned off somehow. When I was told that this was being adapated into a movie, I was skeptical, to say the least. I wasn’t sure how the movie would translate to the screen. When I heard that the director of Ex-Machina was attached, I got a little excited. And when Natalie Portman was set to star, I was sold because of her past involvement in projects like The Black Swan.
And while the film doesn’t do justice to certain elements of the book, like the intense psychological implications, the film has matched the level of weirdness and strangeness that the novel began.
Shortly after the beginning of the film, an innate sense of wrongness envelops Annihilation. I don’t think it’s possible to point to a single moment that tips the scales, but before long it fills the screen, after the women enter The Shimmer. Once inside Area X, colors spring to the screen in vibrant arrays. Animals appear to be nearly bleached of color, almost as if the plants have taken all the color from them. Along with that, throughout the film, Garland plays with the eye levels that the camera is at, frequently changing the style of his approach on his leading ladies.
There’re five women heading in, all for different reasons. We have our stock characters, including Portman’s Lena. She’s there for us project on to, and I honestly think her storyline is a bit dull. But I’ll get to that in a moment. For me, the standout performances were Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) as Dr. Ventress, and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin). Whilst all the characters in the film carry a bit of aloofness, none is more successful than Dr. Ventress, whose motivations seem to be nearly as complex as Area X itself. Gina Rodriguez is the only character that is given much else to do besides Portman, and Rodriguez steps up and takes her character above the cliché that she was written.
I honestly think the one thing I didn’t like, besides having characters that were a bit stock, was the way Portman’s story was handled. I understand the need to tell pieces of it in flashback, but it just seemed like such a gimmick. It was filled with things that I felt didn’t flow with the rest of the story, and each time we flashed back, I felt it killed any momentum that was going on in Area X. Once or twice doesn’t matter, but having four or five flashbacks really hurt the story overall.
Before I get to the finale, I have to mention the creature design. HOLY CRAP. The gator, seen briefly in promotional shots and the trailer is a tense bit of time, but ultimately just looks like a white gator. The other creature is absolutely terrifying. The idea of an echo like that is something that Stephen King could have written. The scene featuring it is tense and taught, with never a moment that you feel relieved. And the gore that comes from these moments is believable and intense. I will inevitably have that creature in my nightmares.
I have to discuss the finale, feel free to skip to the final paragraph for the rating.
This is another of those moments where the only expression can be “What did I just watch?”. Lena is confronted with something of alien design that completely mimics her, something that also copied her husband, before the ultimate destruction of the lighthouse. This is an entire visual spectacle, filled with extreme color that is almost blinding. Garland’s influences are obvious here – the entire sequence reminds me of the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just as I expect that ending was divisive to those in 1968, I expect this one to be extremely divisive now.
But the best part is the sound. An extreme bass sound that pushes further and further, it had been evident throughout the film whenever the Shimmer was mentioned or in mind. Here we get an absolute crescendo that fills every available space within the theatre and within your body. It’s deafening in the best way possible, and if you choose to watch this movie, ensure it’s in the loudest one possible.
All in all, Annihilation will probably prove a cult hit, in time. Much like many good science fiction films, the headier, more thought provoking elements will lead it to be watched again and again, leading to a status of good science fiction. While I don’t think it approaches Ex-Machina, I think it’s a very good film that could have been extremely great if it approached Lena’s story differently. I’m going to give it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A deep dive into the exploration of power dynamics within a relationship.
Apparently this is just the year that I love Best Picture nominees. There are some years where that isn’t necessarily the case, but this year each of the film hits a facet of my film personality that apparently needed scratching. From Del Toro’s love letter to monsters, to a deep, dark black comedy in Three Billboards, to a deconstruction of race dynamics in Get Out, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s crop of films. That continues with Paul Thomas Anderson’s (hereby referred to as PTA) written and directed film Phantom Thread.
Phantom Thread follows dress designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel-Day Lewis) as his life is changed by the discovery of Alma (Vicky Krieps). Reynolds is extremely routine and committed to his work, a character trait that has been nurtured by Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister. While Reynolds focuses on the design of the dresses, Cyril runs the other aspects of the business. This creates a three-way dynamic between Alma, Cyril and Reynolds, as each struggles to understand their place in each other’s lives.
The film is undeniably a PTA film. Those familiar with his work in Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master will understand what I’m saying with that. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the obvious power struggles that lie in each relationship. The film starts and Alma seems to bend to each and every one of Reynold’s wishes. But Alma has more to her than this, and soon shows a layer of unyielding steel that is lying beneath her surface. This leads to some extremely uncomfortable scenes eventually, ultimately leading to the finale, which is something that has to be seen – if not to understand, only to enjoy.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a film, outside of possible Hush, where I believe that sound played such a huge role. Never before has the scraping of butter onto bread been given so much meaning. It’s almost a character of its own – playing to Reynold’s neuroses, pushing Alma higher, and shares center stage with the three actors… and the score. My, oh my, the score. A frequent collaborator with PTA, Jonny Greenwood has crafted a score that matches the film perfectly. Huge in some moments, swelling to deafening in others, but always leaving enough silence for the sound editing to come back and hit the audience right in the ears, the score is lilting and light, until it isn’t. Just like the relationship between Alma and Reynolds, everything isn’t alright, unless it is.
I wouldn’t be me without mentioning the acting, and oh my is it good. I can’t imagine sharing a screen with the legend that is Daniel-Day Lewis, but Vicky Krieps stands next to him and shares each moment confidently. Alma is a great, enigmatic character – we don’t know much about her history, or anything besides her romantic involvement with Reynolds. Krieps nurses that mysteriousness throughout the film, giving conflict to moments that have no right being conflicted. Ms. Manville also earns her Supporting Actress nod, at times giving us little more than an eyebrow that render entire conversations unnecessary. I actually think that this film would have been interesting if it would have played without dialogue at all – allowing the actor’s expressions and the sound editing and score to carry the film. And Lewis continues to turn in masterful performances, with Reynolds being well-crafted in all moments, and never boring in the slightest.
This film is a slow burn of a film which doesn’t feature explosions, explicit sex, or any of the trademarks of modern blockbusters. But this period drama is fantastic in many ways that go unnoticed in those films, and for that I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Timely and political, Marvel has another hit on its hands.
I’ve sat on this review for a few days, partly because I had to think about all the thoughts I had about and surrounding this movie. Though Civil War approached some of the political climate that we’ve been in since the election in 2016, it’s nothing like Black Panther. I mean at one point, an African-American guy calls a white guy a “Colonizer”. Panther is in your face about what it thinks, going as far as ending with a post credits scene in the United Nations. Now many movies come at you with political agendas, but a lot of them end up less than entertaining. However, as Panther continues to make boatloads of movie at the box office, it’s obvious to all that it’s not just a political movie. Instead, Marvel has made a compelling story, filled with characters that have actual motivations. It’s actually a step up from most super hero fare.
I usually hit upon a bit of the plot, but I’m going to avoid that outside of a few spoilers near the end of the post (you’ve been warned). Suffice it to say that the Ryan Coogler gives us one of the preeminent views of Africa at its finest, invoking simultaneously a technological metropolis and an African Savannah full of wildlife. Along with this, Coogler and his writing team, give us a myriad of characters that don’t feel like African stereotypes. Gone are the Rafikis of the world, and in are characters whose looks are individual, definitive, and, well, normal.
That leads me into the look of the film overall – it’s gorgeous. There are several dream-like sequences in the film, each of them given a certain lens filter in order to focus the light into the purple spectra. There’s also glowing, magnetic trains, vibranium galore, and giant rhinocerous for battles. It’s a visual spectacle that only fails once or twice during the scenes that feature Black Panther fighting on his own against random goons. Outside of that minor flaw, the film contains a definitive vision that usually Marvel films have lacked, outside of Ragnarok and Doctor Strange.
I just want to have a shout out to the amazing African-American women that were in this film – from Lupita Nyong’o, to Danai Gurira, to Letitia Wright, each and every woman has a moment to shine in the film. Whether it’s their bravery, their loyalty, or their intelligence, we see that the women can do more than just support the men. They make choices based on their own merit, and the film is much better for it.
The soundtrack also sets the beat well, and mixes in with the transportation to a whole new world. Wakanda is meant to be different, and the music ties in to that. But all the beautiful music and the gorgeous look of the film would have been tinged if we would have had another Whiplash or another Malekith. Instead, we’re given Kilmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan). Arguably the first villain since Loki to captivate an audience with his every move and every word, Kilmonger is both formidable and vulnerable. He’s the mirror image of what T’challa sees within himself – and now I’m headed into spoiler territory. Check it out after the picture, or scroll to the end to see the rating again.
Ok, still with me?
WHY WOULD YOU KILL HIM???? I understand that death in a comic book universe is pretty fluid, but to have such a lame exit after an incredible battle is a bit lame. I also didn’t enjoy the fact that the exact same formula from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, etc. etc. is repeated again where we have a villain with arguably the exact same power set as the hero get 1) beat up badly 2) mopes a bit 3) comes back and wins it.
It’s just going to be a bit hard to build forward after this.
Outside of the few hiccups I mentioned, I thought Black Panther was very good, and I shall rate it accordingly. It’s an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"