Annihilation (2018) Review

Annihilation (2018)

Directed by Alex Garland

Based on Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Annihilation follows a group of military scientists who enter “The Shimmer”, a mysterious quarantined zone full of mutating landscapes and creatures.

My Opinion:

I’m really glad this got rave reviews. I love a good sci-fi film. It’s great that there seems to have been a resurgence of hard sci-fi in the past few years with things such as Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina. However, I seem to be one of the very few who found Annihilation a bit of a disappointment.

I’m definitely a Garland fan. Besides Ex Machina, which I thought was absolutely brilliant, he wrote the screenplays for 28 Days Later…., Sunshine, and Dredd. I love all those, so maybe that’s why Annihilation was disappointing? That may be part of it but I think the biggest problem was that I read the book first (by Jeff VanderMeer) and I liked it a lot.

The movie follows the book quite closely to begin with but then goes off the rails. I do wonder how I’d feel if I’d not read the book? I’d probably have loved how utterly bizarre the film becomes at the end (I love weird shit). But you know what? The book is even more crazy. I really wanted to review the book as I enjoyed it so much but never did as I had no clue how to describe it. The novel perfectly conveyed this overall eerie feeling that stayed with me long after reading it. Unfortunately, my favorite parts (and the creepiest) were completely left out of the film. I can kind of understand why as it would’ve been hard to translate to film without it looking cheesy, but… Shit. I was so looking forward to seeing how those parts would be handled. In the book, there was a mysterious underground structure that seemed somehow linked to the lighthouse but was far more disturbing. The film kind of combined the two places a little bit but I still feel cheated.

Okay, I’ll try to focus on the positive now because I do still think this is a good sci-fi movie even though it doesn’t quite live up to the novel. I loved the look of this film and the gorgeous “Shimmer” they enter. The world inside The Shimmer looked as strange & beautful as how I’d imagined it. The ending involving the lighthouse was enjoyable even though it was completely different to what I was expecting. And, yes, I liked it being a group of women but this is the same as in the book anyway. To be honest, I’m giving less and less of a shit about who stars in a film as long as the story is good and the acting doesn’t totally suck.


The characters aren’t that well developed but I can’t complain as that’s the same in the book as well. We actually get far more backstory involving Portman’s hubby, played by Oscar Isaac, and the rest of the women than we did in the book. The book is truly only about its story, which was fine since it’s a strong one. Adding more to the characters for the film was a smart move as I think connecting with the characters is more necessary when it comes to film. I didn’t think any of the acting really stood out, though. Tessa Thompson was possibly the strongest but it’s not a huge role. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh but she’s not much different from usual in this. Sadly, I’d probably say the same of Portman. This was another thing a little disappointing as I thought the acting was so strong in Ex Machina (especially Vikander). I’m not saying anyone did a bad job, though. They’re all good actors but are just a bit MEH in this. And I found the final predictable scene in this a little too cheesy and “Hollywood” after watching this great bizarre story that can’t be easily explained.

So. I dunno. Maybe I should stop trying to read every single book before its film adaptation! My true love is film and I know this is a case where I definitely liked the film less than I would’ve if I hadn’t read the novel. However, it’s a damn good book so I’m still glad I read it and I highly recommend it to hard sci-fi fans. I guess I better read the rest of the Southern Reach Trilogy now (Annihilation is Book 1). I was waiting to see the film before continuing but now I wish I’d finished all three first. I can say I’m still an Alex Garland fan, though. I eagerly await his next project and hope he continues in this genre.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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Dredd (2012) Review

Dredd (2012)

Directed by Pete Travis

Screenplay by Alex Garland

Based on Judge Dredd by John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra

Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Karl Urban stars as Judge Dredd, a law enforcer given the power of judge, jury and executioner in a vast, dystopic metropolis called Mega-City One that lies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Dredd and his apprentice partner, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), are forced to bring order to a 200-storey high-rise block of flats and deal with its resident drug lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).

My Opinion:

I finally watched this movie for three reasons:

1) I loved Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and noticed after seeing it that he’d also written the screenplay for Dredd (as well as two other favorites, 28 Days Later & Sunshine)

2) I’m a big fan of a little movie called Hardware (as some of you well know) which, like Judge Dredd, comes from the comic book 2000 AD and

3) I was also a big fan of Anthrax in my teen years and they had a song about Judge Dredd (called I Am The Law) so I was always curious about the character as Anthrax always sang about cool shit.

Oh – and before I start this review, I better give a shout-out to Mike of Screenkicker for finally doing as I said and watching Hardware the other night. Thanks for the running commentary on Twitter as you watched my awesome recommendation, Mike! 😉

I’ve been getting a little sick of all the comic book movies in recent years. I go to them, yes, and I’ve enjoyed the majority of them. They always make for good “popcorn” movies but I can’t say they ever really end up being all-time favorites of mine (although I did love Guardians Of The Galaxy). I even get a little bored with the Avengers, especially when they stick them all in one movie together. Superhero overload!

However, this I quite liked. The dystopian setting and the ultra-violence in Dredd is such a far cry from the likes of the glossy & pretty Marvel films (and Thor’s beautiful hair. and non-hairy butt). It’s weird as I don’t normally like extreme violence but, sometimes, I can stomach it if I think it suits a film and its mood. In the case of Dredd, it works. I hated Sin City. I hated Kick-Ass. I liked Dredd.

As usual with these kind of films, I have ZERO knowledge of the comic book so I can’t compare them but I do know that fans were a million times happier with this version than with the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film (which I have no interest in ever seeing as it looks cheesy as hell). I can’t say I fully bought into the character of Judge Dredd in this, though, as it was more the overall look & mood of the film that worked for me. But this movie does have me interested in knowing more about Dredd’s world as well as knowing more about Judge Dredd himself since there’s unfortunately very little development of the title character.

My favorite bits of the film were the “Slo-Mo” sequences in which we saw the action & excessive violence in slow motion (the way in which those who take the hallucinogenic Slo-Mo drug in the film would see things). These scenes were quite beautiful in a way & I liked that they looked like comic book panels (such as in the above photo). From what I read, Alex Garland helped work on these scenes and spent a very long time getting them just right. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a sequel as Dredd did poorly at the box office but, after proving himself with Ex Machina, I’d love to see a Dredd sequel directed by Garland.

Obviously, I did really enjoy Dredd but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t have its issues. It’s a very flawed film in some ways. I know they chose to focus on just one story instead of an origin story or one that’s more about Judge Dredd himself and, while I did like the Slo-Mo/Ma-Ma drug lord story, I certainly can’t say I know much more about the character of Dredd or his world after this film. Heck, I’d say I don’t know any more about Judge Dredd now than I already knew from that Anthrax song I mentioned.

As I said above, there’s also very little character development of not only Dredd but of all the characters so it was hard to care about any of them. I did like Dredd’s female partner in this but she’s not given a lot to do and ends up a bit too “damsel in distress” for my liking. Things like Mad Max: Fury Road have proven that you can have women who kick ass! Lena Headey is fine as a fairly predictable victim turned villain while Karl Urban is also a decent enough Dredd but, to be honest, someone else could’ve played the character and it wouldn’t have made much difference to this film (except Stallone!). The most sympathetic character was the one played by Domhnall Gleeson (below), who is used very cruelly by Ma-Ma. And I have to say I had no clue that was Domhnall Gleeson until the end credits. Guess his Garland connection landed him the role in Ex Machina! (And I’ll be seeing Gleeson later tonight in…. what’s it called again? Oh yeah – The Force Awakens?) 😉

Summary:

I enjoyed Dredd quite a bit despite its flaws. It’s far from perfect but if you just want a kick-ass, ultra-violent action movie with some style, you won’t be disappointed. If you want something deep or strong characters you’ll buy into, this may not be the film for you. I have to say that my husband and I like a lot of the same movies but when we disagree, we really disagree, and he was very disappointed with this film. I do think you’d either love this one or hate it.

I love anything post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian so this movie’s world suits me just fine. The only comics/graphic novels that I’ve ever read are Watchmen & Tank Girl plus I really liked the V For Vendetta film (although I’ve not read that). I guess I’m just more of a fan of dystopian British sci-fi comics than the slick & glossy American ones. Maybe I just need to get more sun? That’s why the British dystopian thing works so well – the writers aren’t getting any sun! Because, seriously – England is dreary. I can’t imagine someone being able to create Judge Dredd in California!

As for movies based on stories in 2000 AD, however, I have to say that Hardware did it better than Dredd did and on a FAR smaller budget. I liked Dredd a lot and would love to see a sequel where we learn much more about the character but I do wish the film was a little better overall. It does kick ass, though. 

My Rating: 7.5/10

**Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of The Force Awakens! Hopefully. I’ll be very very tired….. 🙂

Ex Machina (2015) Review

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Ex Machina (2015)

Directed by Alex Garland

Starring:
Domhnall Gleeson
Oscar Isaac
Alicia Vikander

Running time: 108 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

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My Opinion:

Ex Machina was one of my most anticipated movies for this year. Sci-fi is my favorite genre and Ex Machina certainly didn’t disappoint in that department. It even makes up for the inferior Interstellar, which I found to be a pretty big disappointment. Ex Machina doesn’t really give us anything new as far as the exploration of artificial intelligence or “the singularity” but it’s a topic I’ve always found fascinating (such as in the obscure Electroma, which I reviewed HERE) and I think it does a decent job with a popular sci-fi concept.

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First of all, I have to mention that it was good to be able to see Domhnall Gleeson & Oscar Isaac together in a movie before we see them again in Star Wars The Force Awakens & it’s probably helping Ex Machina to get more attention than it otherwise would, which I see as a good thing. This is Alex Garland’s first time directing after being a writer & I was excited to see how he’d do as I’ve really enjoyed his movies. He wrote The Beach novel, 28 Days Later & Sunshine plus the scripts for Never Let Me Go & Dredd. Okay, I’ve not seen Dredd but people really seem to like it so I’m eager to finally see that one now as well. Apparently, based on Ex Machina, there’s now talk of him directing Star Wars IX. I’m happy to see someone who seems very talented getting some recognition.

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I thought Gleeson was very good in this and the right choice for his role. Isaac was good but it kind of felt like a role that could have been played by most anyone & I thought he paled in comparison to Gleeson & Alicia Vikander. Vikander as the female A.I. was probably the best thing about Ex Machina but may not get as much attention as the male leads, which would be a shame. She is, of course, lovely & her sad brown eyes alone displayed so much emotion (or DID they?). Yeah, she’s gorgeous… I hate her a little.

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As I said above, the story itself doesn’t really do anything “new”. We’ve seen the dangers & morality issues associated with artificial intelligence explored in a wide variety of sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, Westworld, etc. Oh, and of course D.A.R.Y.L. & Short Circuit… (had to get those in here!). I loved the look & feel of Ex Machina but can’t say the story is totally original. It doesn’t really delve as deep into the moral issues as I was hoping it would but it’s still far from “shallow”. I really liked that it didn’t feel the need to throw in a bunch of technobabble, however, which made it feel far less phoney than Interstellar as that tried too hard to impress. Garland tells this story in a pretty straightforward way & does leave you with something to think about once the film ends. It also looks quite beautiful (its style reminded me of Oblivion) and Alicia Vikander as A.I. Ava looked amazing. It wasn’t a case of style over substance, however – I just wish they’d had a little more to say about the moral issues involved in creating advanced artificial intelligence. I liked Ex Machina a lot & think it’s a worthy addition to the sci-fi genre.

My Rating: 8/10

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Question Of The Month At Oracle Of Film

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I’ve participated in yet another Question Of The Month for the amazing Luke over at Oracle Of Film. This month’s question was “What Upcoming Movie Are You Most Anticipating Right Now?”. You can view my reply (which may be obvious from the above photo) and a bunch of other great answers HERE. 🙂

Now, since answering that I’ve read about and seen a trailer for two pretty damn cool looking movies. One is called Ex Machina and it’s been directed by Alex Garland, the guy responsible for writing things like 28 Days Later & Sunshine and it sounds like the kind of sci-fi I love. Here’s a short plot synopsis from IndieWire (and you can read more at the link):

Ex Machina is an intense psychological thriller, played out in a love triangle between two men and a beautiful robot girl. It explores big ideas about the nature of consciousness, emotion, sexuality, truth and lies.

Then I saw the below trailer for Autómata and, damn – that looks good too! I do love sci-fi more than anything – Can’t wait to see all of these!