Annihilation – A Movie Review

I happen to really enjoy Alex Garland’s work, particularly Ex MachinaAnnihilation hit the theaters and disappeared almost immediately, so I didn’t get a chance to see it until last night.

In preparation for the film, back when I thought I’d catch it in the theaters, I read the source material.  (My review for the book can be found HERE.)  This action proved totally unnecessary.  You can watch Annihilation without reading a single page of the book and be just fine.  This is the case for two reasons.  Firstly, Garland stripped the book’s sci-fi elements down to the barest essentials, which made a murky plot in the book very easy to digest on film.  Secondly, Garland radically changed almost every personality aspect of Lena, Natalie Portman’s character.  She is far more balanced, warm, and sociable in the movie than in the book.  Garland also created a mainstream background for Lena compared to what existed in the book.

In fact, Garland altered a great deal of the movie from the book.  The general premise is the same, but the circumstances, environments, and characters are all very different.  This is not a bad thing at all.  Garland delivered a tight, suspenseful movie that kept me guessing throughout.  At times it struck me as almost horror because the scenes were so intense.  But, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie — not by a long shot.  I wouldn’t even call it a science fiction movie, though it exists firmly within that world.  I would rather label this movie as a thrilling character study.

Portman plays a complex person.  Her husband in the film, played by Oscar Isaac, is equally complicated.  And while I found Portman’s supporting characters a little flat, everyone must agree that Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gina Rodriguez gave it their all.  Again, it has much in common with a horror movie in that we get snippets of who these characters are amidst the suspense, but we get to know none of them deeply.

I keep mentioning horror, yet the movie is actually very quiet in many ways, which certainly builds the suspense.  It doesn’t feel obligated to tell you everything going on, though much is revealed by story’s end.  However, stay loose and enjoy the ride.  The movie demands a certain level of interpretation from the viewer.

Finally, the special effects are beautiful.  The premise is that a meteorite hits a remote area in Florida.  It begins to change the life within an ever-expanding zone.  This is a mutation occurring at the cellular level, so the results are pretty astounding.  Garland definitely succeeds at providing lifeforms that are both exotic but also within the realm of reality.  It’s quite a sight to behold.

All in all, I feel that this is a severely underappreciated movie.  It’s strange and demands a certain level of intellectual engagement by the audience, but it’s also well-made, well-acted, thrilling, and unique.  I highly recommend you give it a try.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

V for Vendetta – A Movie Review

I think Alan Moore’s creation, V for Vendetta, is a masterful work, so I had very high hopes for the film version of the comic series.

I did not go disappointed.

I realize V for Vendetta has gotten mixed reviews, but I thought it was very well done.  Because the Wachowski Brothers were involved I expected the excess of the last few Matrix movies, but they restrained themselves quite appropriately.  V for Vendetta was rather understated, in my opinion, and I felt it was nearly accurate with its source material.  Sure, some changes had to be made because it is a mainstream movie and because it came out two decades after the comic, but the soul of it remained true enough.

Natalie Portman did a surprisingly good job and Hugo Weaving deserves some sort of an award for his portrayal of V.  I don’t know many actors who can convey emotion without their face ever being seen, but Weaving pulled it off wonderfully through subtle body language and voice inflection. 

The action was superb, the sets believable, the dialogue fairly crisp with some awkward moments, and the editing was well done. 

Alan Moore, V’s creator, is notorious for his disdain for movie versions of his work (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell), so much so that you won’t see his name attached to the film anywhere and he gives all his proceeds to the artists of his work, but I truly hope he was moderately satisfied with this movie. 

The only problem I had with the film was that its message of rebellion was slightly water-downed compared to the original, and probably with good reason, but I think most people who stop to think about what they’re watching will realize the existing parallels to today’s political and social climate.  However, I believe most people who are even minutely conservative will find plenty of controversial moments in V for Vendetta.

Closer – A Movie Review

Apparently the stage version of this film was a hit, and thus, they decided if it was a hit on the stage it would only be natural for it to be a hit on the silver screen as well.  I’m afraid I couldn’t disagree more.

This film essentially dealt with four people who couldn’t make up their minds who they wanted to be with.  I seriously felt like I was watching a teen drama, but all those things that can sometimes make a teen drama cute were noticeably absent because we weren’t dealing with teens, we were dealing with adults in their thirties and so their behavior was just depressing. 

Sure, this sort of thing probably happens in real life, but I don’t want to see it on the screen.  This film was slow, depressing, pointless, and ultimately anticlimactic.  I can’t believe Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman agreed to star in it, and I have to say that Jude Law and Clive Owen are propagating my theory that English movie starts love playing immoral, sniveling men in today’s films.

The Darjeeling Limited – A Movie Review

Not as eccentric as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or as dark as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited falls somewhere in-between and is an entity unto itself.  However, make no mistake; this is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through.  In other words, it’s well-made and very fun to watch.

Owen Wilson plays Francis, the oldest of three siblings who calls his two brothers, Peter and Jack played (respectively played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) to India.  They meet on the train called the Darjeeling Limited with no idea as to Francis’ plans for them.  It turns out they haven’t seen each other in a year, and Francis wants them to reconnect as brothers on a spiritual quest.  However, he also has some other plans for them that he keeps to himself for as long as possible.

Wes Anderson is one of those creators that I prize.  He brings a unique vision to his projects that I both revere and respect, no matter what the subject matter or presentation.  The Darjeeling Limited was equal parts funny and dramatic, but it was never laugh-out-loud, nor did it bring a tear to your eye.  At times, though, it had you on the verge of both.

Furthermore, it delved into the relationships between brothers and delivered dialogue and ridiculous situations that, while certainly “Anderson” in nature, were still relatable to anyone with a brother.

The quiet interpretations of such outrageous characters by Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman made me love them and, at times, detest them.  Really, though, isn’t that what real life is like with people? 

I’d like to say that Schwartzman is always wonderful, Owen presented himself as the actor I wish he always was, and Brody was a fine addition to the Anderson universe.  We’ve seen Schwartzman and Wilson with Anderson before, so I knew they’d knock it out of the park with his direction, but Brody was a pleasant surprise.  He played both the most grounded and troubled of the brothers, and that’s saying something.  There were also some special appearances by Anderson’s favorites that I won’t spoil for you.

A pleasant surprise on the DVD was the inclusion of the short film, Hotel Chevalier.  Roughly ten minutes, it serves as a prequel of sorts to The Darjeeling Limited and fleshes out some of Jason Schwartzman’s character and that of his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman.  It’s not totally necessary to understand The Darjeeling Limited, but it does help the film make a bit more sense in terms of some references.

If you didn’t enjoy any of Wes Anderson’s previous films, there’s no reason to believe you’d like one set in India, primarily on a train, exploring the complex relationship of dysfunctional brothers.  However, while I still consider The Royal Tenenbaums my favorite of his work, The Darjeeling Limited was very cleverly made with delightfully peculiar characters.