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Movie Breakdown: Super Troopers 2

April 19, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s been 17 years since the original Super Troopers came out.  SEVENTEEN.  Does anyone still care?  Here’s where I am – the last long-awaited comedy sequel I saw was Dumb And Dumber To (released 20 years after the first film), and since it wasn’t any good, I can’t say my hopes are high for Super Troopers 2.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I saw Super Troopers 2 completely sober, and I think that to even sort of enjoy it you have to be either drunk or high.  As for how the film stands on its own without any enhancements?  It’s OK.  The plot is rather ludicrous – the USA has realized that a small Canadian town should actually be a small American town, so they rework the border to include it.  While details are being sorted, the government hires the original Super Troopers squad (they all now work construction due to an incident with Fred Savage) to temporarily patrol the highways.  Naturally, things go poorly.  Actually, to be fair, they go all over the damn place.  The film steadily strays way out into left field and then stumbles all over itself as it tries to course correct and stay intelligible.  There’s some pretty funny gags, and there’s plenty of bits that often garnered no reaction at all from the packed theater I was in for the press screening.  In other words, Super Troopers 2 is as hit or miss as it gets.

There’s no particular reason you should go see this semi-forced, occasionally-inspired, but in-the-end unnecessary sequel in a theater.  Catch this one from the comfort of your couch at 1am as you rip bong hits and think too deep about what makes you laugh now as compared to when you were in college.

One Last Thought:

Emmanuelle Chriqui is so tan in this movie that it’s distracting.  Also her character, Genevieve, is not necessary in any way.

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Movie Breakdown: Rampage

April 12, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Brad Peyton (San Andreas) isn’t a great director and Rampage is an odd video game to adapt into a movie, but I’ve found the trailers for this Rock-led actioner to be oddly entertaining.  Maybe this one will be pleasantly surprising.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Rampage is a dumb movie.  So dumb.  Wildly dumb even.  I’ll explain.  The Rock is Davis Okoye, a primatologist who also happens to be ex-Special Forces.  Because why not, you know?  Okoye’s main quirk is that he doesn’t like people, he only likes apes.  Or at least that’s what you’re repeatedly told by every character even though the guy seems to get along with people just fine.  I’m guessing that Okoye originally read as an asshole in the script, but The Rock just went “Nah, I’m The Rock, I’m nice” and the writers compensated by having his buds project a baffling apes-only persona onto him.  Speaking of Okoye’s buds, his main one is an albino gorilla named George.  When together, Okoye and George talk to each other using sign language, though The Rock mainly just waves his hands around (I swear he signs the same thing over and over) while using a whole lot of words that George can’t possibly know.  They’re tight or whatever though, so it’s tough when George gets walloped by a canister that falls out of the sky after a big rat destroys a space station (seriously).  This canister features some sort of virus that mutates its host’s DNA, and it causes George (and separately, an alligator and a wolf) to get all giant, buff and angry.  Also in the mix here is Energyne, the group that created the bad stuff.  It’s led by main brain Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman doing her best impression of a fucking robot) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacy), a moron who always seems to be standing in front of a Rampage arcade cabinet.  I’m unsure why this movie needed human villains when it features giant monsters, but what do I know.  Anyhow, those two dolts want their special shit back so that they can make more and sell it, so they set off a beacon to draw the beasts to Chicago.  This sends the trio of creatures on a … rampage … that additionally pulls in Dr. Kate Caldwell (a bored Naomie Harris), who claims to have a cure that will save George, and Harvey Russell (an inspired Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a government agent who – for some reason – is also a modern day cowboy.  As I mentioned, it’s all dumb.  It’s also fairly fun.  I laughed throughout the whole movie, sometimes at it, sometimes with it, and one day when I’m drunk at 2am and it’s on HBO, I’ll watch it again and chuckle.

If you’re going to see Rampage this weekend, do it with a big flask in your pocket and your sense of humor dialed to dumb.

One Last Thought:

The final battle in this movie involves an enormous building toppling over in downtown Chicago, and it’s so 9/11-esque that it totally threw me for a loop.  Definitely weird to see such familiar imagery framed with giant mutated monsters running about.

One More Last Thought:

The Rock operates three different helicopters in this movie.

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Movie Breakdown: Ready Player One

March 29, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

What was the last blockbuster that Steven Spielberg directed?  2011′s The Adventures Of Tintin?  Does that even count?  I think I’d lean more towards Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, which was in 2008.  Can you believe that was 10 years ago?  That’s way too damn long to go without a spectacle from Spielberg.  Bring on Ready Player One.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I was a little worried at the start of Ready Player One.  There’s a lot of narration to help establish the film’s hero, a teenager named Wade/Parzival (Tye Sheridan), his world, a rough looking Earth set in 2045, and the Oasis, a virtual wonderland with limitless possibilities.  You also get looped in on a quest put together by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of the Oasis.  It was the last thing he did before he died, and whoever solves his grand mystery (he left behind clues that lead to three keys) will gain sole ownership of the much ballyhooed VR game.  Naturally, anyone who is anyone is on the hunt for said treasure, but the ones to watch out for are Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and their leader Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), a shady, ad-loving man who desperately want to own the Oasis.  As I mentioned, it’s quite a bit of setup, but once you trudge through the details, the film really opens up.  I not only found myself dazzled by the visuals on display, but Steven Spielberg drops in enough pop culture references to make even the strongest hater of yesterday feel a tinge of nostalgic bliss. Here’s what I truly loved about Ready Player One though, it’s all heart.  Its main characters just want a better world, in and outside of the Oasis, and their drive to make it happen is difficult to not find infectious.  I also appreciate that none of the film’s references come off as forced or dumb, they actually feel curated and celebrated. This is certainly a movie that could have easily been a vehicle to sling toys, but instead it’s an enthusiastic high five to pop culture lovers everywhere.

This very entertaining movie is 100% worth your time.  Make sure you see it in a big theater with a big bucket of popcorn and with as many friends as possible.

One Last Thought:

I can’t even imagine how many pop culture references I missed in Ready Player One.  Some of them just barely flash on the screen.  Guess I’ll find out what I didn’t see once the internet does its thing and provides me a frame by frame breakdown of the film.

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Movie Breakdown: Isle Of Dogs

March 23, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s a Wes Anderson movie, so of course I’m in.  Also, I’m excited that it’s stop-motion animation, as Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite films from him.  Also also, Isle Of Dogs screened at SXSW and most people raved about it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Isle Of Dogs is a bleak film.  Set 20 years in the future, dogs have contracted a terrible flu and thus have been banished to a trash-filled island, where they toil about until they die.  Yikes.  Thankfully though, Wes Anderson’s latest is also a charmer that’s very sweet.  It’s centered around Atari (Koyu Rankin), a determined kid on a mission to save his pup from perishing, but it’s told from the perspective of the dogs that he inadvertently teams up with once arriving on the island.  This means that they don’t understand exactly what he’s saying (and unless you speak Japanese, you won’t either), but the lot of them together decipher his needs and go about assisting him (in the quirkiest, most offbeat ways possible, of course) on his quest to locate his bud, Spots (Liev Schreiber).  Like I noted, it’s an ostensibly sweet story, but boy does it feature some dark stuff.  “Whatever happened to man’s best friend?” is a heart breaker of a line from the film, and I found myself frowning every time some downtrodden dog popped onto the screen.  If you’re thinking this one would be great for kids, I’d probably take notice of the PG-13 rating.  On the flip side of that, this film isn’t solely an adult adventure either, as it seems as though Anderson’s aim is to showcase the bond between a child and a pup.

In all honesty, Isle Of Dogs is a grower.  I certainly think it’s a good film, but there’s some stuff that registered as a miss for me in my initial viewing (the American teenager, the cat backstory), and I’m going to need another viewing or two before I’m willing to say it’s great.  Don’t be afraid to slightly check your expectations before heading to the theater.

One Last Thought:

Pretty much everything in Isle Of Dogs is charming, but my runaway favorite bit is Duke, the dog voiced by Jeff Goldblum.  He loves gossip and always has some rumor or whatnot to share with the group.  This repeatedly made me giggle like a child.

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Movie Breakdown: Unsane

March 22, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Steven Soderbergh has directed so many good movies that it’s impossible for me to not look forward to something with his name on it.  With that being said, I’m more intrigued than usual by this shot-on-an-iPhone thriller of his.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Even though I went into Unsane expecting an unsettling experience, I was surprised at how much it weirded me out.  Not only does the film highlight the PTSD that comes from being the victim of a stalker, but it adds a horror element on top of it all that simultaneously makes things too unbelievable and too realistic.  This means that as Sawyer Valentini (a very good Claire Foy) struggles to keep her shit together in a mental institution that she’s been involuntarily committed to, your head is swirling and unsure of what’s real and what’s only happening in her head.  There’s also something to be said about this film being shot on an iPhone.  Yes, it’s certainly gimmicky, but director Steven Soderbergh keeps the backgrounds dull and implements a lot of close-ups, so it works to the strengths of the phone’s camera while also adding a semi-claustrophobic feel to the film.

I think Unsane is better than it has any right to be, so that means you should go and see it.  Just don’t be surprised when it gives you the willies.

One Last Thought:

Most of the people seated near me at the screening found this film to be absolutely hilarious.  At first I figured it was nervous laughter, as it’s a tense movie, but by the end of it they were cracking up so hard that it started to make me feel crazy.  Could it be that the cacklers were planted by the studio in order to make the film come off as super bonkers?  Or did I just happen to sit next to 40 crazy people?  It’s the latter, isn’t it?  Dang it.

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Movie Breakdown: Tomb Raider (Noah)

March 15, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Aside from the fact Alicia Vikander is in this, I can’t see any reason whatsoever this video game couldn’t stay just that.

Post-Screening Ramble:

In some board meeting somewhere, Roar Uthaug and his crew for Tomb Raider answered the question, “So how much is Tomb Raider like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade?” with “It’s like that movie, but with a woman.” Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander in a role I hope we all soon forget, is built upon the scavenged bones of the action-packed Spielberg film. Instead of Harrison Ford getting his face smashed against a wall, it is instead Ms. Vikander who’s subjected to the rougher side of nature – and power-hungry looters – before plunging into a cavern decked out with pointy traps. Vikander plays the titular Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, a hipster hiding from her inheritance – and the reality of her father’s death – by bike messaging around the city for loose change. A Japanese puzzle leads her to the true occupation of her explorer father which leads her to a tiny island off the coast of Japan and Walter Goggins’ sneering Vogel. From there, arrows are shot, traps are sprung, a slightly redundant though not uninteresting storyline is squandered. There’s a moment in the film, when Vikander’s grimaces of pain have turned into grimaces of “I’ve accepted who I am” where Uthaug and his screenwriters (Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Giddons) seem to realize they can ease the vehicle into Indiana Jones mode and it’ll coast just fine. Any attempt at interesting, non-regurgitated action dialogue pap falls to the side and the rest of the film just sort of spills out in front of the viewer. It becomes, entirely, The Last Crusade but without the ingenuity, the reasoning or the cleverness. Here, Lara Croft deals with traps because, well, traps are supposed to be in dungeons. Her solutions to evading these traps – if she must solve anything at all – aren’t based on anything we’ve learned up to this point, instead dialogue is yelled until it shakes loose some meaning. I kid you not, a trap in this film is disarmed by Lara Croft piecing together what amounts to an ancient Light Bright, though Light Bright’s provided me with more entertainment than anything in the final 40 minutes of Tomb Raider. It’s a bit disappointing because Vikander brings all of her acting chops and dedication to what amounts to two hours of running, jumping and not dying. She isn’t bad per say, she just isn’t given much to do. For those hoping that a film directed by a decently regarded Norwegian action director and a few talented actors would pull Tomb Raider out of the moat of shitty video-game-to-movie adaptations, you’ll have to keep hoping.

One Last Thought:

I literally thought Walter Goggins’ could do no wrong, but his Vogel is as bland a villain as any I’ve seen on screen. And it isn’t just the writing, Goggins doesn’t do anything with the character. He just spouts slightly villainous lines and tries to look mean. I’m hoping it’s a rare bump in an other wise stellar career.

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Movie Breakdown: Submission (Noah)

March 9, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

A Stanley Tucci flick about a professor who sleeps with a student. Scandal arises. I’m yawning already.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I can’t really say why Submission was made. It offers nothing new, no standout performances, not even a convincing amount of lascivious dialogue or visuals to spice things up. It is, quite frankly, a film that has been done, better, before. Stanley Tucci plays a slightly failed novelist who burned fast but bright and is now a creative writing teacher at a small school in Vermont. He’s spinning his wheels, but happily, with a wife (Kyra Sedgwick) who he seemingly loves and a daughter (Colby Minfie) he no longer talk to. Angela Argo (Addison Timlin) is a talented (maybe?) student of his whose work captivates him to the point of an aborted sexual tryst. Things do not go well. That’s pretty much the story and pretty much the film. Tucci does good, warm work as Ted Swenson, but he isn’t given much to do but seem sort of uncomfortably aroused and then even more uncomfortably accused. Argo gets worse treatment, as her character bounces from damaged to manipulative to blankly sensual with little to no explanation. And that’s really all there is to say about the film. It starts, proceeds and ends exactly as one would think with nary a bump of spontaneous narrative development to shake the pot. Submission isn’t bad per say, it’s just entirely boring.

One Last Thought:

I never want to see Stanley Tucci make out with a student ever again.

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Movie Breakdown: A Wrinkle In Time (Noah)

March 9, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There was one trailer for this film, the first, that captured my imagination. Crazy visuals, a stunning angular musical choice and Ava Duvernay’s remarkable use of color and style made the film seem like it could capture, for a modern audience, the strange spiritual world of the original book. Nothing else has lived up to that, but I’m still hoping there might be something magical here.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I will say this: I’ve walked out of one movie in my life (Rob Reiner’s North) and it isn’t a practice I appreciate or believe in. But as it turns out, A Wrinkle In Time was my second movie. And I’d like you to know that before reading this review – I only made it 40 interminable minutes into Ava Duvernay’s enormously expensive misstep before grabbing my friend and heading for the door. If this bothers you, I get it, it bothers me too and you can walk away without reading a single other word only knowing that this reviewer found so little to grab on to this film it pushed them right out the door. Go, have your own opinion. For those who can stomach a review from an incomplete viewing, please let me explain why. From the first tightly cropped frames of Duvernay’s adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, something seems off. The dialogue is borderline pap – Chris Pine’s gooey soliloquy to his daughter, Storm Reid – and the cinematography (one of the strongest bits of the director’s amazing Selma) is claustrophobic, overly color-corrected and warm to the point of disbelief. The film only goes downhill from here. Meg (Storm Reid) is in middle school, her father (Chris Pine), a theoretical scientist, has been missing for four years and she’s turned from a promising stand-out to an unpleasant troublemaker. Her adopted brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is a bubbling, fist-shaking seven year old standing up to defend her at every point. Then, 20-foot Oprah and gee-shucks-aren’t-I-the-new-weird-god-creature Reese Witherspoon show up to whisk the siblings, and moon-eyed sycophant Calvin (Levi Miller), into a world of magic and mystery in search of Meg’s dad. There wasn’t a moment of footage that I saw that felt believable. The other-dimensional stuff is so brightly colored and forcefully computerized that there’s nothing genuine about what you’re watching. This movie wants to be sentimentally real, but every thing about it feels fake. Mindy Kaling has one of the worst roles of anyone’s career – a quote (and platitude) spewing witch lady who turns even the the scenes that edge towards bearable into cringe-worthy crud. I left as a make-up sporting Zach Galifianakis taught balance to the collected group of obnoxious wizard people and doe-eyed children. I couldn’t handle the lack of craftsmanship, the overbearing sentimentalism, nor a single line from any of the actors. I’ve read a few reviews since then, some positive, some espousing on the “solid sincerity” of the film, but nothing will change my mind: A Wrinkle In Time is, sadly, an unmitigated disaster.

One Last Thought:

Before the screening Ava Duvernay came on screen to properly prepare the audience for what they were about to view. It was a long, well-articulated plea that audience members tap into their inner child to best embody what her intentions were. After fleeing at the midway point, the lengthy explanation played like an apology, or a director who knew she’d done poorly trying to give some reason why her film might work.

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Movie Breakdown: Gringo

March 8, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

This movie hasn’t really been on my radar, but it’s got a nice cast – Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley – and the one trailer I saw made it look fairly funny.  I also have to say I’m intrigued by the fact that it’s directed by Joel’s brother, Nash Edgerton.  Maybe it’ll be a pleasant surprise.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s something you should know about Gringo, and it’s that the film isn’t anything like its trailer.  I went in expecting an over the top, comedic adventure in Mexico, but it’s not really that at all.  The weed pills that are chatted up so much in the preview?  They’re practically non-existent in the movie outside of being a lightly-shared interest across those involved in the story.  There’s also just not quite as much action as advertised.  Here’s the deal though, while Gringo may not be some wild ride, it is a solid dark comedy.  I liked its patient pace, and I found myself constantly enamored with a couple of its weirder characters – Charlize Theron’s Elaine, an unhinged but calculated business woman, and Sharlto Copley’s ethically conflicted Mitch.  On the flip side of things, the film is dumb and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to root for or against David Oyelowo ‘s too-nice-but-also-too-whimpy Harold.

As long as you head into Gringo knowing that it’s a bit hit or miss, you’ll likely find yourself generally entertained by it.

One Last Thought:

Hollywood needs to figure out a way to get Sharlto Copley in more stuff.  He always injects a fun amount of legit craziness into his characters, and I love it.  He must be an interesting guy in real life.

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Movie Breakdown: A Fantastic Woman

March 1, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

A Fantastic Woman is nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, so my guess is that it’s going to be very good.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Considering that it’s fairly well hidden throughout the first part of the movie, it feels like a spoiler to start this review by noting that the lead character, Marina (Daniela Vega), is a trans woman.  This tidbit is in every plot summary though, and it’s part of the reason the film is being celebrated, so here we are.  I guess I like the idea of not mentioning it because, while it’s certainly a big part of A Fantastic Woman, I think the film initially pulls you in without it.  The first act follows Marina as she deals with the sudden death of her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a successful, much older man who dies after suffering an aneurysm.  With their age difference being so vast and her having just moved into his apartment, Marina is immediately suspected of having something to do with his death.  In addition to this, Orlando’s estranged ex-wife and son not only move fast to claim his car, apartment and more from Marina, but they forbid her from attending his wake and funeral. For the rest of the film, you watch as she fights for an opportunity to say goodbye to Orlando while also being shit on at every turn for being a trans woman.  As you’ve surely guessed by now, A Fantastic Woman is not an easy watch, but director Sebastian Lelio never lets things get too preachy or dramatic.  Instead he rides a very fine line between exploring the transphobia that surrounds Marina and dissecting the grief and loneliness that’s been wrangled into her life by the loss of her partner.  Honestly, it’s masterful work by Lelio, and you should see his rather compelling movie.

One Last Thought:

Francisco Reyes looks like he might be the long lost Chilean brother of Jeremy Irons and/or Scott Glenn.  Someone should make a movie that’s centered around their shared likeness.

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Movie Breakdown: The Party (Noah)

March 1, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I know nothing about Sally Potter or this movie, but it’s packed with talented members of the Commonwealth, so I’m thinking it’s probably at least watchable.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Party is a film seemingly pulled from the late ’90s/early ’00s. The sort of film that’s unbearably artsy – black and white, single location, stark lighting – and focused on horrible people being nothing more than horrible. The type of film that features Timothy Spall drunkenly confined to a single chair for the entirety of its running time as actors too good for this material, banter on and on and on about love, relationships, philosophy and the state of the British healthcare system. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet, a woman who’s finally secured her dream of becoming the Minister of Health for England. To celebrate she’s brought over the closest friends of her and her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), to drink too much and eat. But eating never occurs, almost from the moment her awful, upper-crust intelligentsia friends start arriving, secrets are revealed, the meaning of life is debated, and a gun is waved around. There’s something insufferably self-aware about director Sally Potter’s closed door “mystery,” a streak of babbling, at times incoherent, pseudo-academic pontificating that leads the characters in circles, around each other, around the secrets that tear them apart, and around anything resembling a decent movie. It is – as it features Thomas, Spall, Cillian Murphy, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz and Cherry Jones – well acted, but the superficial arguments of a bunch of one-percenters grows old almost as soon as it begins, and the viewer is forced to clench their fists, grit their teeth and soldier their way through a surprisingly grueling 70 minutes. Worse yet, Potter seems to be trying to say something – about Britain, about old friendships, about what becomes important as our lives draw to their end – but it’s so buried beneath the bitching and moaning of a bunch of rich white people, it’s near impossible to decipher.

One Last Thought:

I never knew Timothy Spall was a skinny human. But he is, almost gaunt if I’m being honest.

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Movie Breakdown: Annihilation (Noah)

February 22, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I absolutely adore Alex Garland in general. Ex Machina is one of the great sci-fi flicks of the last twenty years and everything he’s added his writerly touch to has been immensely watchable. Hell, his book The Tesseract is fantastic as well. Couple Garland with science-fiction stalwart Jeff Vandermeer’s ultra strange Annihilation novel and I can only imagine this is going to be one for the ages.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I, quite honestly, have no idea what to say about Alex Garland’s science-fiction opus Annihilation. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (on which Garland’s film is loosely based) and I wondered when they announced a film how anyone would bring the book’s abstract prose and strange narrative arc to the screen. Garland, an abstract creator himself, is a perfect choice for the film, as he tweaks and flattens the book into less a direct adaptation and more a complimentary line running parallel to the original content. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a professor in cellular biology who embarks on the most recent of exploratory missions into The Shimmer – a strange landscape slowly taking over the southern coast – to try and discover what happened to her husband. The majority of the film happens inside of this area – and Garland’s take on the vibrant, mysterious, overgrown setting is eerily beautiful – as Lena and a small team of women (Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny) slowly unfold the strange happenings at the center of the region. This is a film about what we are at our very core – emotionally, cellularly – and how we are affected and changed by our surroundings and our companions. And though it lives in a distinctly sci-fi world, Garland doesn’t hesitate from exploring the more horrific aspects of The Shimmer. The weight of their exploration pushes down on each member of the expedition in various ways and all of them slowly unravel, their surroundings literally changing their mind and bodily make-up. There’s a scene with what I can only describe as a skull-bear that will never leave me – the terrifying creature howling in the voice of a dying woman, browned teeth gnashing in the darkness. Annihilation isn’t going to be for everyone. Garland isn’t trying to make an easy film here and as the members of the expedition venture further and further into The Shimmer, the film gets weirder and weirder, every odd aspect brought to beautiful fruition by cinematographer Rob Hardy, and the character’s connection to reality gets looser and looser. There’s a panicked, disorientation to the film that Garland nails, every step forward a step further away from what we can easily understand. It is, as Garland’s second film, an enormous move forward in terms of concept and challenge, a big, bleak, bizarre effort that never tries to coddle the audience. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who it is, it’s going to blow their minds.

One Last Thought:

The other scene that is now burned into my brain is the tentacle intestine scene. You’ll know it when you see it.

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Movie Breakdown: Annihilation

February 22, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) in the director’s chair is enough to get me interested in any movie, but my anticipation for Annihilation has been peaked by Paramount deeming it “too intellectual” and “too complicated.”  Just exactly what did Garland create here?  I need to see it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Like Contact, Arrival and various other heady sci-fi films, Annihilation is as ambitious as it is divisive.  You may truly adore this strange movie and want to defend it for all days, or you may loathe it and wonder why in the hell anyone would want to bother with it.  Speaking just for myself, I found it to be great.  The film begins with an introduction to Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier, current biologist who is having a very tough time getting over the death of her husband.  Then, because this movie likes its curve balls, her hubby Kane (Oscar Issac) strolls in the front door like all is well.  Only, everything is wrong with him, and it isn’t long before Lena finds out that he’s been away on a mission in what’s known as The Shimmer, a possibly alien, definite death trap of an area that’s ever-expanding.  In an effort to get some answers for herself and to help Kane, Lena joins the latest expedition into The Shimmer.

If you’re thinking that all of this sounds exciting and interesting, you’re right!  Once the all-female crew enters The Shimmer, director Alex Garland uses crazy creatures, intriguing revelations and a constantly evolving group dynamic to steadily ratchet up the intensity level, and the result is quite a few moments worthy of a good arm chair grip.  Here though is where some will fall in love and where others will scoff, the last chunk of the film is very weird.  I won’t spoil it (because that would be dumb), but I will note that it completely shifts gears and what happens is something that you’ll either find immensely thought provoking or rather anti-climactic.  Good luck!

Challenge yourself this weekend and go see Annihilation.

One Last Thought:

I’ve never been one to go for the sort of coffee table clutter that details ships, characters and whatnot from movies, but I’d totally buy a book that shows me more of the mutated creatures and plants from Annihilation.  The designs all throughout the film are fascinating.

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Movie Breakdown: Game Night

February 22, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Is anyone actually excited about Game Night?  I mean, I dig Jason Bateman, but his comedy film track record isn’t particularly good.  Maybe Rachel McAdams or Kyle Chandler will make this one a winner?  I don’t know.  Either way, can’t say my expectations are high here.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Game Night isn’t quite a success, but it’s not terrible either.  Co-directed by John Francis Daley (he once starred in Freaks And Geeks) and Jonathan Goldstein (he wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming), the film is a surprisingly well crafted, fairly funny affair with adequate action and a swift pace.  Of all those things, I think it’s the succinct storytelling that deserves the most praise, as it makes the film actually feel shorter than its 100 minute runtime.  How rare!  Personally, I think too many comedies these days let bad jokes stretch on for too long, so it’s nice that Daley and Goldstein keep Game Night nice and tight.  Unfortunately though, a movie’s most redeeming quality can’t be that it doesn’t take forever to end, there has to be more, and there just isn’t a whole lot here.  I loved Jesse Plemons’ weirdo cop Gary, but everyone else is pretty forgettable.  The story serves up a nice couple of twists, but in general it’s riddled with so many overly convenient plot points that nothing anyone does seems to actually matter.  Also, while there are some really clever jokes, there are too many low brow layups.  Talk about hit or miss.

If you’re in the mood for something mindless and moderately entertaining, then Game Night is worth checking out this weekend.

One Last Thought:

Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein employ tilt shift a lot through the movie, and since it makes everything look miniature and toy-like, it really drives home the film’s game theme.  Kudos to them for this bit of cleverness

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Movie Breakdown: Black Panther (Noah)

February 15, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I mean how can anyone who likes anything not be excited about the fact that the man who directed Creed is lording over the debut film of a big time African-American superhero? And that every tiny bit of material that we’ve seen is both inspired, beautiful and potentially amazing? Yeah, I’d say my stance is bring it the fuck on.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is, strangely, not a great superhero movie. The standalone film about the new Wakandan king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, impressive as always) trying to keep the tradition of his homeland while fighting off outside forces feels clunky in the more outlandish aspects. Coogler, like so many skilled directors before him, isn’t made for big budget super heroics and the action and plotting that drives the narrative never feels comfortable. The action in general is pretty weak for one of these big Marvel hoo-has, as if Coogler couldn’t get the gritty fist-fighting of Creed to sync up with the spinning cameras and exploding nano-tech of this much more fantastical world. But, come on, this is Black Panther – the first Marvel film directed and written by an African American, the first Marvel film to feature an almost entirely black cast – the superhero stuff was never going to be the point. Coogler’s too smart of a director for it to be so. And the rest of the film, the thick chunks of character interaction and development and the subtext that bubbles just below the surface – that’s amazing. As a film, a real film outside of the spinning tops of Marvel Studios, it’s a slam dunk. This is a film about African tradition and what it means to go against those traditions. It’s a film about growing up without a father. It’s a film about family and community and how important those are. It’s a film about what being black – African, African-American, whatever – in the world is like. It is a film rooted in the culture of Africa and Coogler doesn’t go a damn second without throwing some beautiful spin on African textiles or style or design on to the screen. It’s bright and colorful and somber and dark at times. The bass-heavy thumps of Kendrick Lamar bounce in the background and it just drives the film forward. There isn’t a weak character in the film – outside of say Martin Freeman’s token white guy Everett K. Ross – and Coogler makes sure that no one is bereft of a character defining moment (Daniel Kaluuya’s war rhino scene is one for the books). It’s when the film is forced, by the strictures of Marvel Studios to be a film in that universe (because, duh, it is) that it softens, loses some of the edge Coogler brings to every second it isn’t discussing vibranium asteroids and power suits. Coogler has made a fantastic movie, it’s just been glued to one that doesn’t work as well.

One Last Thought:

If I had a stab at this film, I’d cut every swelling violin shoved into the big moments and replace them with anything Kendrick Lamar did for the soundtrack. The composed score is treacly and maudlin and takes away from the film’s greater identity.

One More Last Thought:

This is a huge tentpole, big-budget, money-raking film and for the first twenty minutes there isn’t a white face to be seen. It’s amazing.

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