Annihilation

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Alex Garland maybe one of the greatest names in contemporary science fiction cinema. As a screenwriter he has given us the likes of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, and Never Let Me Go. His directorial debut, Ex-Machina, was adult sci-fi at its best, and showcased how his flair with a camera was equal to his skill with a pen. For me, the big shame of Annihilation is that I didn’t see it in the big screen. Rumours are that the studio behind it thought it was too intellectual to sell to modern day cinema goers, so sold it to Netflix instead. It’s a shame as much of the joy of the movie lies in the details, which are harder to spot if you’re watching on your phone. Yes, I did end the film confused about some things, but that’s the point of a film like this, you’re supposed to question what you saw, it’s supposed to provoke discussion. Too often are audiences treated as dumb, so it’ll be a shame if this becomes the norm for studios.

Annihilation is the story of Lena, played by Natalie Portman, an ex-soldier who is now a teaching academic in the field of biology. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), is still a soldier, and has been away for two years. Lena fears the worst, but one day Kane shows back up out of the blue. He has no idea where he has been, or how he got home. He starts to become ill and falls into a coma. A government agency soon step in, and tell Lena that Kane was a part of a team who entered The Shimmer, a permeable membrane that has settled around a national park in Florida and is slowly expanding outwards. Kane was the only member to come back. In order to find a solution to what is wrong with Kane, Lena joins a team of three other women scientist to enter The Shimmer.

Annihilation is an ambitious movie. There are ideas in this film that go beyond the normal blockbuster. It follows themes of self-destruction, and re-birth, and explores what it is that drives us as humans. It’s not a perfect film though, it juggles its ideas well for the most part, but doesn’t pay everything off at the end. The thing about it though, is that I saw it last night, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Maybe, it’s too soon to write a review for it, because it really is a film that needs to gestate in your mind. I think this might be my first review with slight spoilers, as it’s a hard film to write around.

It’s a truly feminine film. I mean that in the sense that it’s a feminine story. Nothing happens in this film for no reason, so the fact that it’s four women scientist going into The Shimmer is important. Each moment of this movie is like a puzzle piece, and you need them all to unlock the film. I’ve seen a lot of people who’s questions after the film seem to be on the nature of The Shimmer, on whether it’s an extra-terrestrial weapon or not, I think that misses the point. The questions I was asking were about identity. Is Lena still Lena? I honestly believe the answer to that is yes, and no. Sticking with the themes of destruction and re-birth, Lena isn’t the same Lena as the beginning of the film because she has gone through something, and is now irreversibly changed.

The film is gorgeous to look at. The dreamscape that is The Shimmer, looks incredible. At points being fantastically beautiful, and at other points being terrifyingly hideous. Both the production design and the cinematography are incredible. The special effects can leave something to be desired, especially at the climax of the film, which almost lets the whole thing down. Portman is terrific in the central role, but too many of the other roles feel underwritten. There’s one moment where another character tells Lena all of the groups secrets, and that seems to be it for their development. I’m still mulling over some of the science, and I can’t quite believe it holds up, which isn’t usually a problem as it is just a film, but the ideas of this film are rooted in their science.

Garland has stretched himself, and his budget, and created a fascinating watch. It’s ambitious, but doesn’t always nail it’s ambitions. It’s definitely a film that will stay with me, and that’s what I want from my sci-fi. It’s an emotional story that didn’t quite connect with my emotions. It’s a cerebral film, which will keep you thinking.

7/10

After thoughts: Spoilers Ahead

– The thing that bugs me most is the tattoo. It’s obviously important. It switches from character to character, and Portman has it on her forearm at the end of the movie. If this tattoo is supposed to represent that she’s a doppelgänger then why did she have it before entering the lighthouse. Does that mean she was already a doppelgänger before she entered? I could be part of the DNA being refracted, but Tattoos aren’t programmed into our DNA.

– My overall feeling is that the Lena who came out The Shimmer is the original Lena, but also completely different. The way our body works is that cells constantly replicate and die. So the person you are in five years time is still you, but every cell will be different. Lena’s cells had started to replicate with the mutation so by the end she is a completely different person whether she is a doppelgänger or not. This is a physical manifestation of the battle she is having with herself, and how what she goes through changes her, echoing Sheppard’s dialogue when she talks about the death of her daughter, saying she mourned for two lives, her little girl, and the person she once was.

– The film can be read on many levels. The two I like the most is as a metaphor for cancer. In particular cervical cancer, which is mentioned at the beginning of the film, and which I think ties into the design of the tunnel at the lighthouse. The other way is it looking at it in a very Jungian fashion. Karl Jung talks about how we have to deal with trauma in the sub-consciousness in order to over come it, well this film could be looked at as journey into Lena’s sub-conscious where she has to battle her own self-destructive behaviours in order to overcome the mistakes she has made.

Mute

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Duncan Jones

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, and Robert Sheehan

 

This is another release where the movie almost seems secondary in the conversation. Following on from last months audacious release of The Cloverfield Paradox by Netflix, we are again discussing the streaming giants. Mute is Duncan Jones’ passion project. One he says he had in mind before he burst onto the scene with Moon, and one he’s been talking about ever since. The problem is no studio would fund the project. Netflix stepped in and rescued the film, and, as they seem to be setting themselves up as a creator driven company, gave Jones autonomy over the film. I loved Moon, and have been eagerly awaiting Mute ever since I saw the first bit of concept art years back. The experience of watching Mute was a far cry from the experience I had watching Moon. I saw Moon on its initial release at the cinema, becoming completely engrossed in it. Mute on the other hand, was watched in two halves, on two different screens, with a nap in between.

 

Mute is set forty years from now, in a futuristic version of Berlin. Flowing with immigrants, it’s become a cultural melting pot. We follow Leo, an Amish bar tender played by Alexander Skarsgård. Leo was involved in a boating accident when he was a child. His mother decided against him receiving any treatment due to her belief that God would heal him, and Leo is now left scarred and voiceless. When Leo’s girlfriend goes missing his search for her will lead him on a collision course with the seedy under-belly of Berlin, and two surgeons played by Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux who work for the Russian mob.

 

Mute has has a lot of problems. One of them is timing. In terms of its future noir setting, it owes a huge debt to Blade Runner, it doesn’t help that we’ve just had a very good Blade Runner sequel which this film just can’t measure up to. We’ve also just had The Shape Of Water, where a mute lead character was used in a much more satisfying way. It’s biggest problems though lie with it’s lead character, and the story. Alexander Skarsgård is a charisma vacuum in this role, having him not speak doesn’t help one bit. The only time he interacts with other characters is to ask questions, which leaves him a complete enigma. He’s supposed to be the emotional pull for the film, but it’s hard to relate to him. His Amish roots don’t feel believable either. You can see why Jones has made this decision, when he interacts with future tech which requires voice activation it places him as an outsider, but these situations feel too contrived. He’s charaterisation is almost bi-polar, one minute being the gentle giant, and the next being an explosion of rage. There seems to be no motivation for these mood swings except to service the story, which in all honesty is hugely underwhelming. It meanders along from one scene to the next, there are moments of spark, but by the end I found it really hard to care.

 

There are some redeeming factors though. The cinematography is lush in places, and combined with another fantastic score by Clint Mansell, create moments of beauty and melancholic atmosphere that the film just can’t maintain. There’s also some ingenious worldbuilding. Justin Theroux standing out the roof of a car as his head passes through holographic road signs is a gorgeous sight to behold. In fact the film is at its best when following Rudd and Theroux, they maybe the films most repugnant characters, but there also the most interesting. There’s a manic energy when they’re on screen, which borders on black comedy, owning more to Terry Gilliam than to Ridley Scott. If only the rest of the film had the same energy.

 

Mute isn’t great, but nor is it wholly bad. It’s more of an interesting misfire from a talented director. There’s enough good moments that will win over some fans, and there’s a fantastic nod to Moon which, for me, made the movie worth watching. If the film was just based on Rudd and Theroux, I think it might have become a cult favourite, as it is there are too many moments which rob the film of any momentum, making it a rather dull affair. It’s a strange time for Netflix, they seem to be heavily investing in projects that other studios have avoided, and with the double hit of Mute and Cloverfield, you can’t help but feel they’ve been avoided for good reason.

 

4/10

 

The Cloverfield Paradox

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Julius Onah

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Aksel Hennie.

There’s a lot of conversation to be had around The Cloverfield Paradox. In terms of following previous Cloverfield methods in distribution it fits right in. Cloverfield started life as just a poster, before adding its title closer to the release date. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a surprise sequel which was filmed secretly and announced only a couple of months before release. So it seems with the third movie they’ve achieve their ultimate goal, a Super Bowl spot which announced the film dropping on Netflix immediately after the game. The element of suprise is an interesting marketing campaign. There’s also a discussion about the worrying trend of studios dumping movies they’re worried about onto Netflix. I’d have been disappointed if 10 Cloverfield Lane had been released straight to Netflix as I’d have been deprived a really great cinema experience. These are all interesting discussions, but what about the actual film?

The Cloverfield Paradox is set in a world of diminishing energy resources. In an attempt to stop the world breaking out into war, a crew of astronauts and scientists are sent into space with a particle accelerator. The idea being that if they can get it to work they will be able to create a renewable energy source which will bring enough energy to everyone, but they have to do it in space as it is too dangerous to experiment with on earth. Our main protagonist is Hamilton, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a communications officer who is using the mission as an opportunity to heal/find some redemption for the accidental death of her children, whilst leaving her partner Michael, played by Roger Davies, on earth. When the crew finally have a successful collision, something goes wrong, and that’s when the weird stuff starts to happen.

Imagine you are at a bar ordering a drink, you decide to make you’re own cocktail, so you take an ingredient from all your favourite drinks in the menu, shake them up, and serve. You take one sip, and spit it out. It tastes awful. That’s The Cloverfield Paradox. Combining elements of Alien, Solaris, Event Horizon, Moon, Gravity, Interstellar, and even Armageddon, it creates a mix which is so far below the sum of its parts, you can’t believe how bad it is. Clichéd is one word for it, paint by numbers is another. It takes what would have been a really interesting idea, and just throws tropes at it. It’s adequately enough directed and acted, but the screenplay is awful. One dimensional characters just going through the motions. People complained that the scientist in Prometheus were dumb. They look like Nobel Prize winners next to this group. At one point the communications officer tells the group that they aren’t receiving any signals, and they can’t contact home base on earth. The next thing she does is run into her own room to try and contact her partner. Why would she even think this would work? Why is she distressed when it doesn’t? She’s the one in charge of this. It’s a dumb movie. Things go weird for seemingly no reason. Yes, some of it can be explained, but a lot of the set pieces make no logical sense at all. Even the plot line of we turned the particle accelerator on to get us in this mess, let’s turn it on again to get us out, is just stupidity on a massive scale. You’re supposed to be scientists.

The other big problem with this film is in the way in which it ties into the Cloverfield universe. 10 Cloverfield Lane, was a really good suspense thriller, which contained little nods to the Cloverfield universe, and then tied it in smartly with the first movie at the end. This positioned the Cloverfield universe as more of an anthology series, different varieties of genre movies, which may or may not be set in the same universe. The Cloverfield Paradox looks and feels like the main cast didn’t even know they were making a Cloverfield movie. Most of the connections come from Michael, who is left on earth, and these scenes feel so disconnected from the rest of the movie, and ultimately serve no goal. It’s a disjointed film, which even at its short running time is poorly paced.

I’m all for a Cloverfield shared universe, even if it’s just a smart way to market good movies which might otherwise get missed. I just don’t think this is the way to go. The connections feel forced and heavy handed. The focus shifts from telling a good story to joining up the dots. It robs the movie of any real pay off. It’s a shame because the film contains elements of films I really love, this mix though is really boring.

3/10