‘Annihilation’ Review (dir. Alex Garland)


wewewewe.PNG

It has been quite some time since I last wrote a review. But sometimes a film hits the right notes and sits with you and the only way to shake it is by getting your thoughts out in writing. ’Annihilation’ was one of the first films in awhile to have that effect on me. I should preface this by saying that I’ve been waiting 3 years for its release ever since I read Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy. That it was going to be directed by Alex Garland only heightened that excitement. It is fitting that the last film I reviewed on this site was ‘Ex Machina’ – another Garland film that I loved and ended up being my favorite of that year. It might only be February but I can honestly say I could see ‘Annihilation’ taking that spot this year.

Alex Garland has stated that he read the first book of the ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy – from which the film gets its title – only once and then wrote the screenplay as if remembering a dream. To him it was a “dream like” book – one that would be hard to adapt outright. So he wrote the screenplay as if recalling a dream – attempting to capture the tone but also offering up his own interpretation of the story.  I think that you could say that this is also how I approached this review. I’ve only seen the film once and in writing this it  really was like trying to remember a dream. The film is so layered and so visceral of an experience that to discuss it without multiple viewings doesn’t quite do it justice, because like a dream you only remember what stood out, the parts that affected you the most and things might get overlooked. Those things might not be the same for everyone so my interpretation of it may not mirror what others have thought – it might also just seem like pseudo intellectual babel! But I’ll do my best.

tumblr_p4oj9i62Jw1rr1756o6_1280.png

It would be damn near impossible to describe the plot of the film in any great detail without spoiling it but I will do my best to set it up. The film stars Natalie Portman as Lena – an ex army soldier turned biology professor. When we first meet her she is still grieving her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who was also in the military. He was sent on a mission a year prior and there has been no word of his status since. That is until one evening when he turns up to their house, his memory hazy, his explanation of his disappearance unclear. Before long he begins to have seizures and Lena rushes him to the hospital only to be intercepted by the Southern Reach – a secret government agency – and taken to a secure location.

There they explain to Lena that years prior something seemingly extraterrestrial crashed into the coastline. In subsequent days and weeks after the crash a shimmering pearl and translucent bubble began to grow and expand covering miles of swampland. It doesn’t seem to ever stop expanding and its presence is being monitored and kept secret. Their fear is that if it continues to grow at its current pace, it’ll eventually end up engulfing populated areas. They have sent in multiple exploratory teams over the years, consisting of trained military forces – to discover what lies within but none have returned. The prevailing theory/rumor? Something either killed them or they went crazy and killed each other. Lena learns that her husband – now on life support and quickly fading – was a part of one of those missions and is the first member to ever return. Determined to find out what happened – and possibly save him – Lena volunteers to join four other women on the next expedition into what the organization calls the “Shimmer”.

tumblr_p4oj9i62Jw1rr1756o10_1280.png

From there what Garland creates is a cerebral – at times haunting – sci-fi masterpiece. To me ‘Annihilation’ works brilliantly as two things. First as a genre film in the vein of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Alien’. It is at times bone chillingly eerie with a persistent sense of unease and paranoia from start to finish – and it contains one scene with a bear that is one of the more frightening scenes I’ve seen in awhile. This side of it raises a lot of questions about genetics, bioengineering and the effects of outside forces on an ecosystem. You could take it as a climate change allegory where human interference has altered the environment and now it has turned on them.

Second – and more importantly –  it is a metaphysical examination of depression, self destruction – and in my eyes – renewal that has ties to Tarkovsky and Kubrick. It is a film about characters dealing with issues that hang over them like a dark cloud. Addiction, the loss of a child, self harm, cancer. Each and every one of them goes on this mission not just because they want to know what lies within the Shimmer – but also because the unknown is better than what they currently know. In an almost subconscious way – and for some very conscious  – the threat of death doesn’t scare them and it perhaps would be a release. Once inside they are faced with an ever increasing state of anxiety. They can’t trust their eyes or their thoughts. Eventually even their bodies turn on them. Are they even any longer in control? Will they ever escape or be able to go back to being who or what they were before entering? Or will they be consumed by the Shimmer – the dark cloud that hangs over them?

For Lena specifically, the deeper she goes the more the Shimmer takes effect, the weight of guilt and grief consuming her, until she nears a breaking point. By the film’s end she must effectively confront herself head one – and for many people with depression that “self” is their worst enemy as it is here. She can’t get away from it, at one point it is literally suffocating and crushing the more she fights. It isn’t until she stops fighting that she is able to overcome. But still the question lingers – even once we get through the darkest moments in our life – when we shed that grief, guilt, loss or sadness – are we still the same? Has the effects of those things, of the Shimmer, changed us forever for better or for worse? That I think it open to interpretation. For me I found the ending hopeful. There was a sense of renewal, or rebirth, in the same way as ‘2001’ and the Starchild or the Titan-esque Ryan Stone crawling out of the “primordial soup” in the end of ‘Gravity’.

tumblr_p4qcibM26L1s8esgpo9_1280

Production wise I’d say the film is a marvel. The CGI is used to great effect creating a dreamy, gorgeous and colorful landscape. Garland has mentioned that although the film is set in Florida they shot the film in the UK and made the sets look like swampland. It is a minor production detail that I found interesting and in a way one that helps in making the Shimmer feel more unnatural. The score is equal parts hypnotic and kinetic. The finale in particular had my skin crawling as the images on screen danced along with the pounding score.

The two biggest complaints I have heard about the film are the pacing and the narrative structure. Neither bothered me. The pace was at times slow – but it felt deliberate as if building towards something great – which very much paid off. There are quiet moments but all serving a purpose to either further the progression of the story and Lena’s arc – or to build a sense of unease. As far as the structure of the film – which consists of flashbacks and jumps between the past and present – it didn’t hinder the film in any way. And to be quite honest, given the feeling of the unknown, I enjoyed the slow revelation of Lena’s past along with the questions about Lena’s state of mind in the present that the structure produced. One must remember she is an unreliable narrator at that point – something that I think could be rewarded with multiple viewings

tumblr_owy7rkOIBc1v6bg8ho2_540.gif

I do highly recommend that everyone see this on the big screen- especially because love it or hate it, we need to support these sorts of films. The studio already gave up on ‘Annihilation’ before it was even released. It won’t hit theaters overseas and hasn’t even opened in a lot of theaters in the US which is a shame.

Ultimately for me ‘Annihilation ‘ was a film that was as earthly – almost cosmic – as it was intimate. It is a horror story about how we change the world around us and how it changes us – as well as a fascinating examination of depression, anxiety and overcoming self destruction. It is a divisive film for sure. It won’t click with everyone and many will outright hate it. Even those that love it might not walk away with the same impression as I did. But that to me is the sign of a truly great film – one that is subversive, layered and truly unafraid to take risks.

10 Sci-Fi Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-rocket-with-gun

Over the past few years, it’s gotten a little bit more common to see science fiction films nominated for best picture.  While a sci-fi film has yet to win best picture, it is no longer as much of a shock to see a science fiction film nominated.  At least not as much as it is to see a horror film nominated.

That said, it’s still an uphill fight.  Here are 10 science fiction films that I feel could and should have been nominated for best picture:

  1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s expressionistic silent epic remains one of the most influential films of all time.  Metropolis was eligible to be nominated during the first year of the Oscars, a year in which not one but two awards for best picture were handed out.  That Metropolis was nominated for neither Best Production nor Unique and Artistic Picture was a huge missed opportunity.

2. The War of the Worlds (1953)

This film may be over 60 years old but it’s still one of the best alien invasion films ever made.  And yes, I prefer the original to the Spielberg version.

3. The Time Machine (1960)

Morlocks, Eloi, and war … oh my!

4. Planet of the Apes (1968)

“A planet where apes evolved from man?”  No, not quite.  “YOU BLEW IT UP!  GODDAMN YOU TO HELL!”  Yes, that’s better.  Today, Planet of the Apes may seem more than a little bit campy but it’s still an unusually intelligent social satire.  Charlton Heston’s persona has never been better used.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Can you believe that this classic from Stanley Kubrick was not nominated?  Kubrick got a directing nomination but, when it came to picking the best films of the year, the Academy nominated Oliver! and Rachel, Rachel.

blade%20runner%20final%20cut

6. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is today recognized as a classic but it originally received mixed reviews and was ignored by the Academy.  At the very least, Rutger Hauer deserved a nomination.

7. Never Let Me Go (2010)

This underrated clone drama was sadly overlooked.  Andrew Garfield’s performance is heartbreaking.

Film Review Under the Skin

8. Under the Skin (2014)

This enigmatic film was probably too bizarre and unsettling for the Academy but Jonathan Glazer’s direction and Scarlett Johansson’s performance make Under the Skin a classic.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Whenever I rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m happy to discover that it still holds up as a wonderful piece of entertainment.  It remains my favorite film of 2014.

10. Ex Machina (2015)

Quite simply an amazing film, this is a Metropolis for the 21st Century.

 

Here’s A Complete List Of The Oscar Winners!!!!


 

Spotlight

Best Picture: Spotlight

Best Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu for The Revenant

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCarpio in The Revenant

Best Actress: Brie Larson in Room

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph.  The Big Short

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Best Documentary Feature: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant

Best Costume Design: Jenny Bevan, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Editing: Margaret Sixel, Mad Mad: Fury Road

Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song: “Writing’s On The Wall” from SPECTRE

Best Production Design: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Visual Effects: Ex Machina

Best Animated Short Film:Bear Story

Best Documentary Short Film: The Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness

Best Live Action Short: Stutterer

MadMaxFuryRoad

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions


2013 oscars

Can you believe that the Oscars are just a few hours away!?  This is actually shaping up to be an exciting year.  Even though I’m fairly certain that I know who and what is going to win, there’s still a strong possibility that we could have a few upsets when the winners are announced on Sunday night!

Well, I guess I better hurry up and post my predictions.  Below, I will list both what I think should win and what actually will win.

(If you want to see which films I would have nominated if I had all the power, please check out my What If Lisa Determined The Oscar Nominations post!)

Okay, here we go!

Best Picture:

Should Win: Brooklyn

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Director:

Should Win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Best Actor:

Should and Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Actress:

Should and Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Best Supporting Actor:

Should and Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress:

Should Win: Rooney Mara, Carol

Will Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Screenplay:

Should Win: Inside Out

Will Win: Spotlight

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Big Short

Best Animated Feature:

Should and Will: Inside Out

Best Art Direction:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Cinematography:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Costume Design:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Danish Girl

Best Editing:

Should and Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Makeup:

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Mixing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Sound Editing:

Should and Will Win: The Revenant

Best Visual Effects:

Should Win: Ex Machina

Will Win: The Martian

Best Original Score:

Should Win: Carol

Will Win: The Hateful Eight

Best Original Song:

Should Win: “Earned it” from Fifty Shades of Grey

Will Win: “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

Best Documentary Feature:

Should and Will Win: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film:

Should Win: Can’t say because I haven’t see any of the nominated films

Will Win: Son of Saul

Documentary Short:

Should Win: ????

Will Win: The Girl In The River: The Price of Forgiveness

Animated Short:

Should Win: ?????

Will Win: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

Live Action Short:

Should Win: ??????

Will Win: Stutterer

 

Here’s Who Won At The DGA (or The Unexpected Virtue of Making History)


The_Revenant_2015_film_poster

The Director’s Guild of America handed out their awards tonight and history was made!  (And the Oscar race got a little bit more complicated.)  First off, Alex Garland won the award for Best First-Time Feature Director for Ex Machina.  Then Cartel Land somehow defeated Amy for Best Documentary Direction.

And then Alejandro G. Inarritu was named Best Director for The Revenant!  This makes Inarritu the first film director to ever win back-to-back awards from the Director’s Guild.  As you may remember, he previously won for Birdman and when was the last time anyone thought about that damn movie?  (For the record, I thought the Revenant was far superior to Birdman.)

So, to recap, the Production Guild gave its top award to The Big Short.

The SAG gave its top award for Spotlight.

And now, the DGA — which is traditionally the most reliable of all the precursors — gave its top award to The Revenant!

In other words, for the first time in my lifetime, there are three films that seem to have a legitimate shot at winning best picture when the Oscars are awarded later this month.

Of the 8 films that were nominated, my personal favorite would be Brooklyn, which realistically has no chance of winning the top prize.  (Carol was my favorite film of the year but it was not nominated.)  However, there’s a part of me that still hopes that — despite not winning at the PGA or the DGA — Mad Max: Fury Road will pull off an upset.  Sadly, that probably won’t happen.  Not only would a Mad Max victory be a nice (and popular) surprise but it would completely redefine the stodgy old assumptions about what type of films qualify for Oscar consideration.

If The Big Short wins, it will be the biggest travesty since the victory of Crash.

Here Are The 21st Annual Critics’ Choice Awards Winners!


The show was definitely a bit on the dull and overlong side but at least Mad Max: Fury Road won a lot of awards.  Check out a full list of nominees here!

FILM:

BEST PICTURE – “Spotlight”

BEST ACTOR – Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”

BEST ACTRESS – Brie Larson, “Room”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl”

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS – Jacob Tremblay, “Room”

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE – “Spotlight”

BEST DIRECTOR – George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, “The Big Short”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Revenant”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – Colin Gibson, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST EDITING – Margaret Sixel, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – Jenny Beavan, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP“Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS“Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE“Inside Out”

BEST ACTION MOVIE“Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE – Tom Hardy, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE – Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

BEST COMEDY“The Big Short”

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY – Christian Bale, “The Big Short”

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY – Amy Schumer, “Trainwreck”

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE“Ex Machina”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – “Son of Saul”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE“Amy”

BEST SONG – “See You Again”, Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa, “Furious 7”

BEST SCORE – Ennio Morricone, “The Hateful Eight”