FlixChatter Review – ANNIHILATION (2018)

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Directed By: Alex Garland
Written By: Alex Garland
Runtime: 1h 55min

Annihilation, based on the book trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, follows biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) join a group made up of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist to investigate mysterious environment after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns from an unexplained year-long disappearance. Lena, along with Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), and Josie (Tessa Thompson) soon learn that the laws of nature don’t apply in this strange and dangerous location.

This movie made me want to read the books immediately, because the screenplay is so well-written, and I can only imagine how fantastic the source material must be. It’s such an imaginative and suspenseful story. It’s tense and unpredictable without feeling messy. I especially like that it’s a female-led sci-fi movie, which is rare. It’s not the focus; it’s commented on once toward the beginning of the film, but otherwise the characters are interesting and well-developed without being defined by their gender. The fact that they’re portrayed by phenomenal actors makes it even better. The group has amazing chemistry, and they all give strong performances, although Gina Rodriguez as Anya is definitely the stand-out; she goes from likable to terrifying to heartbreaking seamlessly.

This film is visually stunning as well. The CGI is incredibly detailed, but not overused to the point of being over-the-top. The designs are beautiful, unsettling, and in some cases, horrifying. Even the more mundane scenes are beautifully shot; there’s a moment with a close-up of Lena holding Kain’s hand, filmed through a glass of water distorting the image, that is so subtle but so effective.

That said, it’s not a perfect film. There’s a subplot about Lena cheating on Kane with her colleague, Daniel (David Gyasi) that doesn’t really have any effect on the overall plot and doesn’t fit the movie’s tone. Maybe it’s more important in the books, but it doesn’t feel necessary in the movie, and the time wasted on it could have been better used developing the alien nature the group is exploring.

I was also a little distracted by how many times different characters exclaimed over how impossible everything in this alien area is. I understand expressing surprise and initial disbelief, but they are so adamant about things being impossible that it’s kind of ridiculous. I wanted to yell “You just saw a mutant crocodile attack your friend in a fairy garden swamp, all surrounded by a shiny bubble of science fiction! Maybe accept that everything you’ve learned until this point doesn’t apply anymore!” Maybe I’m being nitpicky, though.

Overall, though, Annihilation is excellent. It’s beautiful, it’s frightening, it’s brilliantly acted, and if the two-hour movie is that good, I can only imagine how amazing the story is when it’s fleshed out over three books. Definitely check this out.

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Have you seen ‘Annihilation’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Continuing his obsession with the spaghetti western genre, Quentin Tarantino has made another self-indulgent film that may divide some of his hardcore fan-base. Personally I thought it’s an entertaining picture but not one of QT’s best films.

Set in a post-civil war Wyoming winter storm, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is deserted on the road. As a stagecoach approaches, he meets a bounty hunter named “The Hangman” John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who’s escorting a prisoner named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the nearest town for her hanging. Warren asked Ruth if he can catch a ride to a mountain pass safe point called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once they’re on their way to Mannie’s, they ran into another stranded individual named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who said he’s the new sheriff at a town where Ruth and Domergue are heading to. Arriving at Minnie’s to escape the roaring storm, Ruth keeps a steady eye on Domergue, sussing out other customers, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Bob (Demián Bichir,), General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), while stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) tries to keep out of the way. As the strangers attempt to figure one another out, paranoia soars, pitting the gunmen in a contest of storytelling as they try to wield lies before they brandish guns.


Just like other Tarantino’s films, the story is broken up to chapters, but told in a linear style. Tarantino seems to love his own writing, a little too much in case of this film. While I do enjoy the dialogues by all the actors, the film’s first half tends to drag a bit. At nearly 3 hours long, it could’ve used some trimming. Despite my qualms about the first half though, once the story gets going, QT knows how to ratchet up the tension and when the bullets starts flying, it’s a vintage Taranto’s film.

The performances by the actors were pretty great, especially Russell, Jackson and Leigh. The entire film is built out of monologues and these actors were up to the task by delivering some over-the-top lines. This being a QT film, the N-word and F-word has been uttered many many times.

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Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson decided to shoot the film in 65mm and it looked spectacular. I’ve seen the film twice, once on a 70mm presentation and the other on digital. To be honest with you, I prefer the digital presentation only because the 70mm theater I saw it at wasn’t properly set up and there were film scratches the screen. Not many theater has the ability to set up 70mm screen properly anymore so I think I would’ve enjoyed the 70mm presentation much more had I seen it in a proper set up. But I’m still happy that Tarantino is one of the few directors who still insist on shooting his films on high quality film.

The Hateful Eight may not be one of QT’s best films but it’s one heck of a good time. If you can stomach the bloodshed and of course QT’s over-indulgent dialogues, then you should check it out.

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So have you seen The Hateful Eight? Well, what did you think?

TCFF 2015 Day 6 Recap + Reviews: Anomalisa and Too Late

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We’ve passed the halfway point of TCFF already, with just four more days to go in the 11-day cinematic festivities. There are still a whole bunch of great films coming in the next few days!

The highlights of the past few days are definitely meeting the talents and filmmakers attending the film fest!

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Director Dennis Hauck, John Hawkes & Jatin Setia

It’s especially gratifying to see Alexandria, MN native John Hawkes being honored with a North Star Award for Excellence after the screening of his film Too Late (review below). TCFF will screen other Hawkes films, including Winter’s Bone and Me and You and Everyone We Know“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” TCFF executive director Jatin Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career.” Amen to that. I had hoped he’d be nominated for his performance in The Sessions, which also screened at TCFF in 2012.


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Anomalisa

This is one of the most anticipated screenings at TCFF and the theater is packed. The film has received unanimously positive reviews out of other major film festivals, and Charlie Kaufman is a beloved writer/director. I’m not terribly well-versed in his work however, having just seen Adaptation, but I’m definitely familiar with his work. I think it’s safe to say he is one of those writers with a distinct style that it’s more of an acquired taste. Anomalisa is his first stop-motion film and it’s definitely not an animated feature for kids. It deals with a rather heavy subject matter about a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.

As the film opens with the protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) on a plane, I was immediately amazed by how good the stop-motion quality. Though the lines of the puppets’ faces are left in, the expressions are quite realistic and even the skin textures and hair are meticulously done. The eyes are especially interesting to look at, as they truly convey human emotion. Kudos to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for crafting something that, despite not actually having real people in it, has a very human story about existensial crisis.

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This is the only still image I can find of this film

Michael seems to be one of those people who have it all (as is the case in many Kaufman’s stories), he’s a successful customer service expert with a best-selling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He’s in town in Cincinnati for a conference, and it’s apparent he’s very disillusioned with his soul-sucking corporate job. The film takes place mostly in a single night in an upscale but impersonal hotel that only aggravates Michael’s feeling of isolation. To illustrate the humdrum life seen through Michael’s eyes, everyone else he comes across (both men & women) have the same voice, voiced by Tom Noonan. That is until later on in the film when he meets a fretful customer service rep staying on his floor named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She struggles with self esteem, always thinking that she’s not at all special, but Michael assures her she is unlike any other he’s ever met… anomalous Lisa, hence the film’s title.

To say that the film is bizarre is putting it mildly. But it’s to be expected from Kaufman, and there’s definitely surreal elements in the way the story unfold. It’s also hilarious in parts, most notably when Lisa sang a Cindy Lauper song for Michael. The sexual themes are prevalent right from the start, with Michael witnessing a guy in the next building masturbating and later we see a fully-realized sex scene. The scene is eerily realistic and not at all comedic, which is a technical feat considering it’s puppetry. I have to say it creeps me out a bit and I bet I’m not the only one squirming in my seat watching that.

I also find that though I can relate with the theme of isolation and loneliness, it was hard for me to get into the character who is downright unlikable and frankly, unrelatable. I remember a line from the documentary A New High that plays on TCFF’s opening night where a character said ‘Though life doesn’t always go my way, I choose joy’ and throughout the film I felt that life is about what we make of it and Michael chooses to dwell on the banality of his life.

Ultimately, Anomalisa is a film I appreciate and even admire, but not love. It just doesn’t connect with me emotionally, and I find the petulant manner of its hero aggravating. But on a technical level, the animation quality is top notch, given its relatively small budget (crowd-funded via Kickstarter), that is no small feat. It lives up to its title in that there is nothing else like it, a uniquely-told and crafted existensial drama that no doubt will get people talking for years to come. How profound this film really is however, is up to the viewer, but I think Kaufman’s fans will be pleased with this one.

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Too Late

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Good things come in small packages. Last night, Twin Cities Film Fest attendees were treated not only to a new indie film noir starring Minnesota native John Hawkes but also a post-show Q&A with the actor and writer/director Dennis Hauck. It’s always interesting to see actors in person after you see them on screen, and my usual reaction is how much smaller they are in person. But I digress.

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Too Late, Hauck’s debut feature film, stars the Alexandria-born (and Oscar nominated) Hawkes as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private detective haunted by his past. In a recent Star Tribune article, the author said Hawkes has a history of playing bleak characters (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) and this one is no different…but he plays them so well. The film begins and ends in a very “Pulp Fiction” type fashion (and then, as if to prove the connection, Robert Forster, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, came on screen while I was thinking this) with a mix of the romanticism of Once thrown in the middle.

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If you’re confused it’s okay because that’s not really the point. Not to say this movie doesn’t have a coherent plot (it’s one of those you want to watch again once you reach the end to get everything straight) but I found myself wondering what would happen next. Part of this is because the movie was shot with only five, single shot, uninterrupted scenes. (The film is about 100 minutes long so each “section” of the movie is about 20 minutes.) In the post-show Q&A Hauck talked about how the camera equipment was often too heavy for one person to handle for 20 minutes so there are slight jiggles in each scene where the camera was shifted from one camera person to another. Yes, in addition to the story, this movie is a treasure trove of unique filmmaking.

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Taking the classic tapestry of old Hollywood from the beginning scene overlooking the city to the middle scene in a projection room at an old drive through, the cinematography of shooting this movie on 35mm film adds to its appeal. I also found it to be expertly cast – Hawkes injects his world weary character with a sweet, unassuming charm (in the post-show Q&A Haucks mentioned that he wrote the script with Hawkes in mind) and Crystal Reed (Dorothy) and Dichen Lachman (Jill) both avoid the “stripper with a heart of gold” mentality to give their characters a relatable depth.

The movie was very well received with the sold-out crowd spontaneously applauding as the credits rolled and I hope it gets wider release as it’s a worthy addition to any moviegoers list.

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Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 


What do you think about either one of these films?

 

Everybody’s Chattin + Trailer Spotlight: Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

Happy Midweek everyone! Two more days until Friday 😀 How’s your week so far? It’s kind of a s-l-o-w week for me and there’s been no Instagram updates from my dahling French crush so I’m missing him so much I could barely concentrate on anything today. Yes I live for Stanley Weber these days [sigh]… he is EVERYTHING!!!!

ehm, now that I get that out of the way…

… about those links…

Cindy posted a heartfelt tribute to the late author David Foster Wallace a while back, the subject of the recent film I saw, The End of the Tour

Mark wrote a retrospective piece on Top Gun that got me all nostalgic

In response to the recent box office bomb Fantastic Four, we’ve got a review from Keith that confirmed my dread, whilst Eddie offers up some suggestions on how to fix the franchise.

Two directorial debuts from excellent Aussie actors: Josh wrote about Russell Crowe’s debut The Water Diviner, while Tom wrote about Joel Edgerton’s The Gift

Meanwhile, Natalie reviewed this New Zealand horror comedy Housebound

Last but not least, Chris lists his picks of Best Songs of the Decade so far.


Time for question of the week

The Hateful Eight almost didn’t happen due to a script leak in 2014 by Gawker. If you follow this news, you’d likely know that QT ended up withdrawing the lawsuit against Gawker. At Comic-con last July, Tarantino said that “…it was the first draft that leaked online and he expected to write two more to get to a point where he was ready to shoot” (per THR).

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In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?

Check out the brand new trailer:

Image Source: The Playlist' Tumblr
Image Source: The Playlist’ Tumblr

I’m not a big fan of Westerns, but this one looks intriguing. QT sure knows how to cut a trailer, and the visuals look fantastic, as to be expected. The only thing is, I don’t know if I want to see Wintry scenes right smack dab in the middle of Winter when this movie’s released.

The cast is astounding… We’ve got QT’s perennial favorite Samuel L. Jackson, plus Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Amber Tamblyn, Walton Goggins, etc. Channing Tatum gets top billing on IMDb but I barely see him in the trailer (?) I’m bummed that Viggo Mortensen didn’t end up joining the cast because of scheduling conflict.

Fans of 70mm format rejoice! [I’m looking at you Ted ;)] as the film will be shown in its Ultra Panavision 70 presentation. Per IMDb, the film will be released on December 25 of this year as a roadshow presentation in 70mm format theaters only before being released in digital theaters on January 8, 2016.

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So are you excited for The Hateful Eight?