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.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro

 

Star Wars isn’t a movie. It’s an event. It takes grown ups back to their youth, and ignites the imaginations of young children. There were kids with lightsabers running round the cinema, as well as actors in storm trooper outfits patrolling the foyer. I watched the original trilogy religiously as a kid, enjoyed the prequels at the time (I was the right age), grew up and realised they weren’t great, and really liked The Force Awakens. Where The Force Awakens did fall short was originality, and it received a lot of criticism for rehashing old story beats. The expectation on The Last Jedi was in taking this story somewhere new. Boy, does it deliver.

 

The Last Jedi starts exactly where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, and is trying to coax him out of his self-imposed exile. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance are on the run from the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, and a battle scarred Kylo Ren. To say much more risks running into spoiler territory, and this really is a film which is best seen with as little spoiled as possible.

 

There are so many great moments in The Last Jedi it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s probably the best looking Star Wars movie so far.  From the costume design, creature effects, and visual grandeur, it tops them all. The performances throughout are superb, with top credit going to Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. The original cast members really get a chance to stretch themselves, and deliver sides of their characters not seen before. Adam Driver is similarly terrific, his Kylo Ren is more nuanced here than The Force Awakens, the struggle between light and dark played out constantly on his face. If any performance is slightly off putting it’s Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaker DJ. Del Toro over acts, with voice tics, and odd hand gestures. He chews the scenery in all the wrong ways.

 

As I said before, The Force Awakens was criticised for just re-heating the original trilogy, and The Last Jedi really does forge its own path. This is a story driven blockbuster, and I’m sure some fans won’t like where Johnson takes the story, but I loved it. Instead of coasting on nostalgia, throwbacks are used to service the story. The biggest difference between the two films though is pace. After opening with a superb aerial fight, the film slows down, and allows us to dig into the characters. It’s here where Johnson pulls off his greatest trick, and that’s by giving the series heart. It’s easy to feel sad when Han Solo dies in TFA, you’ve grown up with this character. The feelings that Johnson is toying with are far more complex, and he makes you feel for every character by showing the audience what they are fighting for. This isn’t just a fight of good versus evil, Johnson throws in shades of grey. We also get answers to some of the biggest questions from TFA. I was satisfied with these answers, although I feel they will be divisive.

 

There are are a few minor flaws in the film. It’s too long, there are a lot of story strands to follow, and not all of them seem necessary. Finn and Rose’s, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, adventure to the casino planet at first feels like a mis-step, but is given more weight during the climax. It could have been cut down, but that would have meant less screen time for Boyega which would have been a crime. The logic of the main chase sequence of the film is also questionable, but I feel this isn’t too hard to overlook, as the story is so captivating. The dialogue isn’t too great either. It sometimes feels like exposition overload. There is also a character death with felt a little wasted. After so much build up, it was hard not to feel a little like “Is that it?” It’s hard to judge whether all the decisions paid off, after all it’s the middle film of a trilogy, and I think that whether you have more negatives depends on whether you liked where the story went or not.

 

Overall, the film is great. The best Star Wars movie ever, that’s hard to say without knowing how it will stand up in thirty years, but I left the cinema feeling like it was. I loved the characterisation, how it raised deeper questions about this universe. There was also a subtle animal rights message which I enjoyed. The action was some of the best in the whole series and it was by far the best looking film of the series. It felt new, and fresh, and there was an emotional under current previously missing. Where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess, but that’s the great thing about Star Wars now, it’s regained the element of surprise.

9/10