Tag Archives: sci-fi

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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At the Movies: The Dark Tower

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Among author Stephen King’s more whimsical stories (in as whimsical Stephen King tends to get), The Dark Tower follows young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a troubled young boy with ominous visions of a tower keeping evil from spreading unchecked in the world, children being tormented by the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) using their essence to destroy the tower, and a mysterious Gunslinger (Idris Elba) who can stop this Man in Black from destroying the tower. The Dark Tower follows this plot-line pretty religiously, but this movie is a case of the journey being much better than its destination.

We establish everyone believes Jake to be troubled, and rightfully so. His father died in a fire, his mother is now smitten to a man seemingly trying to get rid of him as quickly as possible, and his constant visions of the Dark Tower is driving his mother into depression. However Jake knows deep down inside he isn’t crazy, and he begins seeing his visions in real life.

People with lose fitting skin seemingly wearing it as a costume are hunting psychically gifted children to harvest their energy to destroy the Dark Tower protecting infinite Earths. During a daring escape, he follows his visions to a strange house that transports him to a different world: one broken by evil forces. It isn’t until he finally finds the Gunslinger does he know his visions are true.

Truth be told, most of the power this film holds is in the fast developing relationship between Jake and the Gunslinger once you slog past the rather slow intro. Their journey to battle the Man in Black hits a pretty by-the-numbers route through the film’s middle segments. Granted, the action scenes and locales were cool haunted locations, a strange amalgamation between magic, technology and the Old American West.

The Man in Black, who really should just be known as McConaughey with dyed black hair, played it with very little enthusiasm. It felt he put more work into those Lincoln commercials they he did with the albeit very simplistic Man in Black. He has no ulterior motive other than being an evil prick bent on world domination. He has totally dominion over all men, conveniently except for our Gunslinger and to some degree even Jake.

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The movie comes to something of a halt once we reach the climax, the finale duel between the Man in Black and the Gunslinger. While certainly CGI filled, its conclusion filled me with this flat sense of “meh”. On the one hand, I had enjoyed the film up this point. On the other, I had wondered if this was really the end. I found myself enjoying the fantasy world they were inhabiting more so than the people in it. Frankly, I didn’t give much a shit about them to be honest. I was more sad we couldn’t spend more time amalgamating modern New York into the twisted vision of mid-Earth, but I’m good with what I got.

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The Dark Tower isn’t quite as epic as it hopes to be, even if what’s at stake is the fate of multiple Earths. It feels flatter than it does appropriately epic, which it’s set-piece moments certainly called for. Elba played the quite straight man well enough, Taylor played the precocious child-hero well, and McConaughey could’ve been anyone else really. In fact, I spent a decent amount of time going through a roster of alternate villains who could’ve really provided the character the presence it sought. Maybe this one was a job for Mel Gibson? Certainly was fire and brimstone enough.

I had gotten this vibe that they wanted to leave enough room open for a sequel, but I feel pretty confident this one’s wrapped up. The Dark Tower was a fun romp but didn’t really leave me wowed. I wanted to be, the idea seemed cool, the stakes were plenty high, and Elba did a good job being a gun-slinging badass. Just a shame none of it really added up.

I think a lot of people are going to shit on this film, which is not totally fair. The Dark Tower was a lot of fun in spite of a few things, and I’m grateful it aimed high trying to cram quite a bit into an hour and a half. Something shit like, oh I don’t know Transformers still hasn’t learned. For that, I give The Dark Tower a thumbs up at least.

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Pic Sources: http://www.thedarktower-movie.com/site/galleryhttp://stephenking.com/darktower/

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