[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Sucker Punch (2011)

 

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya

110 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.

 

Wow, I remember being very excited for Sucker Punch five years ago. I really enjoyed Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, both directed by Zack Snyder (300, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and I couldn’t wait to see what the visual director was going to bring next. Sucker Punch had the right amount of mystery and confidence to carry it for me. Then, it came out. My mind quickly changed. Looking back now, I decided to revisit Sucker Punch five years later to see if it had changed.

Sucker Punch is another one of those movies impossible to fully describe in a paragraph, so I’ll try to make it as easy as possible. Babydoll (Emily Browning, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Legend) has just lost her mother, and her step-father has sent her to an asylum for the mentally ill, which Babydoll sees as a brothel. She meets others there, like Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish,  Limitless, RoboCop) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone, Contact, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), and she is introduced to Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who makes Babydoll and her friends dance at his club. Not wanting to deal with the cards dealt, Babydoll escapes into a fantasy world where she battles Nazi Zombies, Robot Samurai, and of course, a dragon, all the time attempting to get tools to plot her escape.

If there are two truly great things that came out of Sucker Punch, they are the visuals and the music. This movie is gorgeous looking, and I don’t just mean the talent in front of the camera. Zack Snyder’s constant flair for the screen  is again impressive here. The score and soundtrack, both in the original renditions and songs selected to fit the film, are incredible and rhythmic and a lot of fun. That is where the wins for Sucker Punch end.

I’m not even going to touch on the misogynistic feel of the overall film. The movie just wants to be better than it is. I didn’t feel the emotional impact of much of the film because I knew that what I was seeing was not exactly what was really happening. It isn’t very easy to make a popcorn movie with explosions and scantily-clad woman battling monsters into a total snoozer, but Sucker Punch did just that. Honestly, when I read down the list of components of this film, it should be great, but the poor screenplay from Snyder and Steve Shibuya shines through this film, ultimately making a disappointment.

The film is star studded, also including Jamie Chung (Big Hero 6, Bad Johnson), Carla Gugino (Night at the Museum, San Andreas), Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men, Minions), and Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs, The Barber), but unfortunately, the film feels overdone and undercooked, a beautifully confusing mess, a nicely mixed cocktail that tastes like mud. I really wanted to love Sucker Punch, but I just wasn’t in love with it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

Unbroken (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

In Unbroken, based on the true story, Olympic athlete and World War II airman Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire) is captured behind enemy lines after his plane is shot down. The film, from director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey), chronicles Zamperini’s time after the crash leading up to and including his time at a POW camp and his altercations with the Japanese soldier Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

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I found myself checking the time several times throughout Unbroken. It seemed to meander far too long on events that should have been more exciting and climactic than they ended up feeling. It also looks too glossy, and it doesn’t end up feeling real, but more like a Lifetime presentation of the Zamperini story.

Now, I won’t bash the entire film. I liked Jack O’Connell’s performance, as well as supporting work from newcomer method Ishihara. Even the smaller roles played by Domnhall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Finn Wittrock (TV’s American Horror Story, Noah) were all spot-on.

So what makes the film so underwhelming? Is it the screenplay from the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson? No, not at all. Then what? I think Angelina Jolie had a lot of great elements to use, but they just weren’t put together the right way. As I said before, the cinematography was great, but the sets and costumes captured felt fake. They just didn’t have the look they needed. The pacing is off as well. It’s disappointing from my initial hopes of the film.

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Unbroken is broken in several ways. Like a puzzle with too few edge pieces, it just has a lot of trouble fitting together. Angelina Jolie has proven before she can handle the directorial duties, but this film isn’t a great representation of that handle. For my money, there are better war films…American Sniper, anyone?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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