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At the Movies: Annihilation

There are a lot of spoilers in this, so if you are real serious about Annihilation maybe stop.

I remember ranting in the car at my poor girlfriend shortly after we left the theater. I also remember feeling kinda bad since she initially wanted to re-watch Black Panther before I convinced her maybe we should try this. Going into the film trailers painted a movie where an alien contact on Earth summons Natalie Portman and crew to investigate a potential alien infestation. What I thought would ensue was a mindfuck adventure from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. It’s true it comes with a lot of confusingly gross creatures and at times hauntingly pretty locales, finding ways to distort the familiar into things impossible. However the plot goes nowhere and one by one characters die off for no other reason than to mercifully come to an end.

Spoilers ahead but honestly, tl;dr meh.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a former Army veteran and current day academia professor. She is haunted by the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) a fellow soldier and (I think?) black ops operative(?). Most of their exposition is watching Portman and Isaac fool around in bed, then we jump to the threat named The Shimmer threatening to infect our world. It’s not as steamy as it sounded, you can safely go back to watching Fifty Shades of Free.

After disappearing for a year and seemingly dead, Lena finds Kane just walk right into their bedroom and act like an obvious clone. A short conversation follows then says he needs to go to the doctor because he’s spitting blood into a cup of water. On route to the hospital big-ass-obviously-government SUVs detour them and kidnap both Kane and Lena. We are introduced to psychologist, and extremely Xanex’ed, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who musters enough energy like a 14-year-old girl looking at you stupidly like of course you don’t know what the fuck she’s talking about, explain a very serious alien infestation threatening to very slowly but assuredly eat up maybe a town in around 40(?) years.

Lena, distraught her newly returned husband dying seemingly for real this time, decides to venture into The Shimmer strapped up with Chicago paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and Dr. Ventress – probably secretly looking for a lost cache of Xanex within The Shimmer because she’s abused her right to have prescription pads like Dr. House.

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Thing is I can’t fault the actresses (even the extremely high Dr. Ventress) for trying to bring as much horror and enthusiasm to a movie with all the charisma of a instructional  technical book. Oh look: a human being split in two with a giant butthole flower grown from where his torso once was. Let’s get some swabs of it and get some sleep (this literally happens). There are quick sputters of violence, which happen for no other reason than to wake us up. In perhaps the strangest scene in the film, they are confronted by a mutated bear with human bones grafted to its face and it’s roar is a literal human plea for help. This was perhaps the only interesting and possibly cool thing to happen in the movie. After this one of our protagonists has leaves growing out of her skin then just disappears period.

We don’t see much other wildlife aside from some pokemon-looking deer, and we learn that maybe the person who Lena thought was her husband may actually not even be a human after all. If this sounds boring it’s because the movie provides  no weight to anything that happens. The film would’ve been serviced with a sub-title: Shit Happens. The movie relies on random gore and creepiness to lull us back into a story really bored with itself.

Kane is obviously gone quite often since he’s a military operative, and we immediately at the start of the movie are introduced to Lena’s co-worker Daniel (David Gyasi) trying to holler at her, but the movie makes a point to establish Kane and Lena’s closeness, then introduces an affair with flimsy context. The love triangle goes no where and takes up time that probably should’ve just been cut entirely. I might’ve been able to forgive the movie had it been 30 minutes shorter.

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The only real conclusion I can come to was the writers were written into a corner, then left to get coffee. I’m convinced there must be another hour of footage out there that was meant to be the second half of the movie. The film comes to climax with Lena being forced to confront an alien-copy Lena shortly after seeing a video recording of her husband killing himself with a phosphorous grenade while recorded by a clone copy of him. Yes, I meant to explain it like this did it fuck your mind?

Real Lena slowly learns Alien Lena is learning from Real Lena how to act human, including fighting back when Real Lena tries to kill it. I think this was meant to be a moving moment, but eventually Real Lena kills Alien Lena with a flare grenade thereby seemingly ending the alien plot line. If none of this sounded exciting, it’s because it wasn’t. Nor was there any real suspension in the moment building up to it.

Annihilation builds up suspension to do nothing with it or even bother making elements sensibly tie together. What was the whole point of detailing Lena’s affair (twice focusing on when she was having sex with Daniel, only to just hate him immediately and throw him out when it was recognized she seemed equally at fault for this, THEN to just drop it all together and daydream about having sex with Kane? Why didn’t we get to see the bear again or anything interesting like that again?

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Lena and Kane reunite at the end after being the only to escape, but now with us knowing the (real?) Kane died within the Shimmer we are left with an intentionally opaque ending trying to seem like it was designed to invoke mystery and some sort of thoughtfulness. Lena knows this guy isn’t really him, and we know she’s irreparably mutated after spending too much time in the Shimmer. Neither are probably ever going to escape the facility, but are we to assume the infestation continues? I don’t know. And I don’t think Alex Garland does either. If you do, please inform both of us.

I’m sure an argument about unsaid subtext and themes going over my head could be brought, and you might even be right. The whole film is built on distorting our perceptions of the world as we know it including what makes us fundamentally us, but at some point I began asking myself if I was making the story up in my head or I’m actually using what’s provided. Was that maybe the point?

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TV Theatre – The Belko Experiment

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To put it in its most simplest terms, The Belko Experiment is a film about violence for the sake of violence. It will probably share a similar audience to the likes of Saw or any slasher that gives the filmmaker an excuse to show over an hour’s worth of gore non-stop. The set up is an international group of people put together in a bizarrely nice building in the middle of nowhere Columbia.

They all work happy corporate lives until one day a voice on the intercom tells them they have to start killing people or they will die at random. Who these people are, the cast, the antagonists, whomever it’s all irrelevant. People have to die when the voice says, so sayith the voice.

In fact, there is little plot here anyway to make these characters relevant. Not that the film is concerned with it. No, the prime focus is to get you sitting on the edge of your seat ruminating how the next sucker is going to die a shitty death. Because that’s why you came to see this movie: stupid people dying shitty deaths.

This movie probably will share a lot of similarities to the 2000 classic Battle Royale, but unlike Royale, The Belko Experiment invests no serious time on its cast and spends more keeping the body count going as fluidly as possible. Which is cool if that’s what you were expecting coming into this movie like I was.

To that end, the violence is pretty amusing and even at times somewhat thrilling, even if everyone is moving at a very by-the-numbers pace. At no point are you going to be genuinely surprised by anything. The movie sometimes tries to pull at emotional strings that just aren’t there. Instead, it’s at its best when it stops trying to talk and just lets the rage fly.

At the end of the day, if your thirst is for a horror movie more concerned with being grossly violent than genuinely scary, then yeah, The Belko Experiment can help with that. In fact, for just that purpose it’s pretty good. Just maintain that level of expectation and everything’ll be alright. Maybe just maybe don’t eat spaghetti or something with tomato pasta. Or do, if you’re sense of humor is that morbid. Again, this movie would probably be for you.

Just like this little review, the movie ends somewhat abruptly leaving you with the feeling they want to build a fuck load of sequels to this because Saw did it. If nothing else, it looked like this movie was a lot of fun to make for the actors.

At the Movies Double-Feature: The Emoji Movie and Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets

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Every summer there’s always those movies. The ones where you ask yourself, “why?” For fun yeah but, like, why this? Movies cost a lot to make, so you would think it since it takes a ton of effort on the part of animators and so many others, that. I wouldn’t be asking for much for it to be decent right? So as it is every summer, there’s the turd. The Emoji Movie is that turd.

The movie revolves around Gene, who is supposed the “meh” emoji. He’s not like the other emojis where their faces are set and don’t ever change. Gene, on the other hand, goes through all kinds of faces. He just doesn’t want to be a “meh” emoji. At first it caught my attention and I wanted to see where they were going with it. But 20 minutes into the movie and I just so badly wanted something to happen.

The plot of the movie involves all the emojis living in a phone, and Gene discovers the owner, Alex, is planning to resetting his phone, deleting everything. Now when I saw the previews I was excited thinking it would be funny and we would get a chance to see how emojis live day to day life in this fantasy world. I mean, isn’t that at least sort of the point for these movies?

Anyway fuck it, the film was a waste of money. I could say more but honestly what’s the use? The Emoji Movie makes it seem like the writers ran out of ideas and out of random they decided to make an emoji movie with no good story to go with it. I’ll give it the animation was decent but I feel bad for the people who had to animate a script my niece would’ve done a way better job with. That’s it, that’s what I have to say about The Emoji Movie.

As for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, just like The Emoji Movie, was decent to watch because of its fancy visual effects. For the plot, it felt very poor plus the acting wasn’t there either. It all felt a bit goofy when the actors were trying to be serious. Either be willing to have fun or be serious, but don’t try to sell me whatever this was.

If the storytelling was a bit more thoughtout I believe it could’ve been great. Both Rihanna and Cara Delevingne are trying to make a stamp for themselves as actresses but they have a long way to go still. Rihanna’s scenes were too short and Cara just had that “I want to laugh look” while trying to be serious at nearly all times. The only part that seemed decent was at the point they were trying to sava Cara from being eaten.

Valerian kinda obviously has a Star Wars vibe going on, which was something I think sorta saved this movie for me. I don’t like giving spoilers so this is all I’m saying about the films, but honestly I gave you as much details as the films really gave me. They’re both entertaining movies to a degree thanks to their looks but beyond that they both have horrible plots.

 

At the Movies – War for the Planet of the Apes

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War for the Planet of the Apes is the grand crescendo to what started as a prequel trilogy to 1968’s Planet of the Apes, painting a portrait of exactly why the apes came to power and how humanity lost its position at the top of the food chain. Few reboots really work out as well as their originals. 2011’s The Thing, 2014’s Robocop, the majority of Alien-themed films from Ridely Scott lately, hell there was even the 2001 remake of Plant of the Apes with Mark Wahlberg and Tim Burton (which was universally panned) all come to mind just for a few examples.

However, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes really shifted the franchise from man-against-ape in a semi-heroic struggle to a sympathetic tale of the apes struggling to survive amid humanity’s self-destructive spiral into extinction. War begins shortly after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with Caesar (Andy Serkis) still managing the fallout of Koba’s rebellion. Apes have defected into human ranks out of both fear of Caesar’s punishment and for fear of the well-armed humans, who have begun an all-out assault against the apes. Caesar, despite his best efforts, is losing his grip on his beloved home he’s fought so hard to keep.

The Caesar we meet is much older, stone-faced and shorter tempered. Battling against the humans and the guilt of Koba’s death still weigh heavily on him, taking away much of the bright-side-of-life he once looked upon. Instead he realizes he shares more in common with Koba than he ever dared realize. This becomes most apparent than ever when Caesar is confronted by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a relentless military leader who ruthlessly hunts the apes with great efficiency.

The Colonel’s special forces are a threat the apes have never faced, and Caesar quickly finds himself outmatched. Frustrated from suffering horrible losses, Caesar wages a reckless campaign against The Colonel joined by his loyal friends Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Rocket (Terry Notary). In the midst of this we meet two new characters: the curiously eccentric Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a feral ape who learned to survive on his own and speak English by mimicking humans; and a mute child, Nova (Amiah Miller), who initially orphaned because of the apes, is put into Maurice’s direct care.

 

 

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Bad Ape in particular, who has inside knowledge of The Colonel and his military forces, turns out to be the most wonderful surprise for the film. He acts both as comic relief, in some of the most charming scenes in the film, and as something of a revelation to the apes that they aren’t the only intelligent apes around.

War for the Planet of the Apes is unapologetically bleak for both parties. The apes have never faced a force so overwhelming, and the humans continue to fight a losing war against nature and themselves. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel, while a menacing, really isn’t the true enemy in the film, though he does his best to provide the tough-guy-military vibe. Instead, it’s always been Caesar and his development, in this case becoming his own worst enemy. What Caesar goes through is what his people go through, as he is very much their soul. And in this case, he suffers. A lot.

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War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t a summer CGI, slug fest crescendo many might’ve expected from the name and trailers, myself included. Instead it’s a surprisingly thoughtful journey. Caesar, at wits end on how to keep his people safe, is willing to compromise his own judgement in the name of revenge. The humans don’t feel as relatable as Gary Oldman’s and Jason Clarke’s struggle in Dawn, though it is revealed The Colonel is sympathetic in his own right. Ultimately this film is firmly a documentation of the apes’ struggle.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a terrific send off to a very terrific reboot trilogy. This isn’t the end of the franchise though, with word a fourth film is already in the works without director Matt Reeves (who helmed the last two films and is now tied to Ben Affleck’s The Batman). The revelation of Bad Ape subtly changes the game since future sequels can explore the possibility of ape societies that developed away from Caesar’s more benevolent influence, itself leading more into the 1968 original and how humanity falls into ape enslavement.

People may still be riding the Wonder Woman high from a blockbuster perspective, but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you chose to ignore this very powerful film. On the surface it looks like nothing more than a movie about very realistic looking intelligent apes fighting humans, but truly it’s a desperate journey of two different societies on two completely different trajectories. By the end, we are left wondering if humanity’s decline was even something to mourn.

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Pic source: http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes

At the Movies – Transformers: The Last Knight

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I can’t remember much of Transformers: The Last Knight, and that may be one of the kindest things I can say about the movie. The franchise must have hardcore fans somewhere because Michael Bay keeps being given a job. The Last Knight also earns a distinction for being the worst reviewed film in the franchise, which is a tall order given the dumpster fire that was Revenge of the Fallen. Or Age of Extinction. And to a lesser degree Dark of the Moon, which was kindlier reviewed. Point being, the franchise hasn’t had any highs since it started in 2007.

Optimus Prime is dead in space conveniently hurtling toward Cybertron. Upon landing he is quickly brought back to life and meets the evil Quintessa, who has taken control of Cybertron. Of course Optimus, being the paradigm of good, refuses to bend to her will. She corrupts his spark and makes him the evil Nemesis Prime, complete with a totally rad, evil red scar. Along the way we meet Mark Wahlberg, who insists on calling himself Cade Yeager, who finds himself inexplicably back in the fracas after running into Bumblebee again, essentially the series’ theme-park tour guide through the madness that is Bay’s ongoing arc.

There’s Sir Anthony Hopkins as Sir Edmund Lennox, the naughty old man who introduces the legend of King Arthur and the fact it was Autobots that had given King Arthur the legend of his sword and power he wields in legends. He attempts to guide the young Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) through her destiny of ending a war between the Autobots and this tremendous threat from space or something. To be honest this is where I began to drift a little.

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I do have a question, why does Michael Bay insist on finding lookalikes to Megan Fox still? Especially if they’ve supposedly settled their beef that started during filming of the original Transformers. I mean they’re slightly different, then there comes scenes where they put on make-up that make them look just like her. Anyway, Vivian discovers she has ties to the Witwicky family line, which makes her powerful for some reason because it turns out the family line is of royal linage. To that point, if the Witwickys are so great, where did Sam go? Are we so mad at Shia LeBouf we can’t even acknowledge him in this shit?

It’s probably not fair I’ve been pooping on the movie to this point. Why don’t they just let Shia have one more go at the series, I mean how much worse could it really get? I did have a great time watching the loads of explosions, especially the extraordinarily extra finale where a planet fell into another planet for what felt like an hour. To that credit, Michael Bay does have a way of making a symphony out of the madness that is the constant explosions.

There’s going to be another film, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise since they kept making more after Revenge of the Fallen. They have more planned until 2019, with a Bumblebee prequel coming then another full-fledged entry then maybe another. Much like the Marvel films, you’ve either bought into the madness or you’re just as perplexed as me how they keep paying for this shit. To the film’s credit, the special effects and myriad of actions sequences keep this movie somewhat interesting, especially if you get solidly stoned before coming in.

By the way, why the fuck does Michael Bay insist on making these movies three fucking hours long? I fervently believe Transformers would be looked on much kindlier if he could wrap this up in an hour and 45 minutes, tops. Look I’m going to be real, if you keep watching these movies just watch the original The Transformers: The Movie from 1986. It’s so much better.

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Pic source: http://www.transformersmovie.com/gallery