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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Good Time & Kong: Skull Island Movie Reviews

Two quickie reviews for two 2017 movies that I finally saw. Then I’m going to focus on reviewing movies with at least one Oscar nomination (Kong: Skull Island has one nomination so I guess I’m kind of starting today). Next week I’ll review The Shape Of Water, Darkest Hour, and hopefully both Lady Bird & I, Tonya if I manage to see them after they’re released tomorrow. Oh, and tomorrow I’ll finally review The Greatest Showman (nominated in the Best Song category).

Good Time (2017)

Directed by Ben Safdie & Josh Safdie

Written by Josh Safdie & Ronald Bronstein

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ben Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Necro

Music by Oneohtrix Point Never

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb)
After a heist goes awry, a bank robber spends a night trying to free his mentally handicapped brother from being sent to Riker’s Island prison.

My Opinion:

Good Time is one of those films that’s quite good but soooooo extremely “indie” that there’s absolutely no one in real life who I could recommend it to. Only you movie bloggers! 😉

So it appears this was directed by two filmmakers who are brothers & one also does the writing while the other also does the acting (in this case, playing the mentally handicapped brother of Robert Pattinson). This is certainly no Twilight! It’s good to see Pattinson in something so different. He does very well in this as a complete fuck-up who clearly loves & wants to take care of his brother despite not knowing at all what’s actually best for him.

I don’t really know what to say about this. You’ll either like its indie style or you won’t. Stuff happens but it’s the meandering sort of storyline that’s so common in indie films. The way that Pattinson’s character does absolutely everything wrong when it comes to his choices in life was amusing. I liked his brother (played by director Ben Safdie) and you really can’t help but kind of want things to work out for these two bumbling criminals. Oh! But, more than anything, I really liked the electronic score done by Oneohtrix Point Never. I’m a sucker for a good score & I know that really helped me to like this movie a little more than I otherwise might have. It kind of brought It Follows to mind. A good score is very important, filmmakers! Well done Safdie brothers & Oneohtrix Point Never.

My Rating: 7/10

**Forgot to say Jennifer Jason Leigh is barely in this. Damn. I like her.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Based on King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Set in 1973, the film follows a team of scientists and a US Army unit recently withdrawn from the Vietnam War who travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific and encounter terrifying creatures and the mighty Kong.

My Opinion:

Speaking of good music in a film, Kong: Skull Island has this as well. This time, though, it was a kick ass soundtrack as opposed to the score (I can’t recall the score). The soundtrack was easily my favorite thing about this movie. What is it with Vietnam-era songs?? I love the angry songs from that time in history. Warning: I’m going to go off on a short non-movie-related rant here. Throughout history, the worst times for the human race have often resulted in fantastic music being made. People pour their hearts into their art during the most desperate times. So… Why does music FUCKING suck nowadays? Hmm?! The world is completely fucked up right now so where’s the great music as a result?????? I’ve wondered this for a while now.

Okay – let’s talk about this movie. It really kind of sucked. I hated it at first. I was mega tired & attempted to watch it & zonked out about 30 minutes in. I remember muttering something like “can’t they make a good monster movie….zzzzzzzz…..snore…….”. Then I tried again and still thought it sucked but kind of enjoyed it in a guilty pleasure sort of way. I think this was mainly thanks to (besides the soundtrack) John C. Reilly. Easily the best character. It took far too long to finally introduce him! No wonder I fell asleep the first time.

Oh. I suppose I should mention the monsters??? MonsterSSSS (plural). Was Kong not enough?! What’s with people these days? Never satisfied! I thought Kong was done quite well. And he was a far more developed character than all those random army guys who were there just to die in entertaining ways. Kong was cool – I think I could be friends with that dude. This movie really did improve in the second half (more Reilly & more Kong). So. I dunno. I enjoyed it yet thought it was a pretty bad film. Fun but bad. Like Road House! No. Wait. Road House is fucking awesome. That’s an 8/10 goodbad movie. Kong isn’t bad enough nor good enough to be goodbad. I’m making no sense. I’m mega tired again.

Awesome Vietnam songs! Black Sabbath & David Bowie! Holy shit! John C. Reilly great. Kong very good. Too many monsters spoil things (ONE other big monster to fight Kong is all we need). Rest of the characters extremely weak, especially all those random army guys. But I still always like having Samuel L. Jackson in a movie so that was a bonus. I enjoyed it more than Godzilla (2014). But I have to say that the best monster movie I’ve seen recently is definitely Colossal.

My Rating: 6/10

From the soundtrack: Time Has Come Today by The Chamber Brothers

The Hateful Eight (2015) Review

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum

Narrated by Quentin Tarantino

Music by Ennio Morricone

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

My Opinion:

Yesterday I reviewed Jackie Brown as part of my 2017 Blind Spot Series & for Quentin Tarantino’s 54th birthday. In that review, I talked a bit about my disappointment over The Hateful Eight. It was hard to not compare the two films as I watched them almost back to back but it made me appreciate Jackie Brown even more and made me realize, in comparison, just how overblown The Hateful Eight is.

I already went on about this movie in yesterday’s review so I’ll keep this one short: The Hateful Eight is easily my least favorite Tarantino film (I’ve ranked them all HERE). It’s not a horrible film but he’s clearly believing his own hype too much & needs to return to the simplicity of a really good script as in things like Reservoir Dogs. His films have been getting more & more over the top and this one finally went fully overboard. It’s one thing to be over the top but another to be so dragged out & rather unenjoyable, which is something that I can’t say of any of his other films.

Okay – I’ll try to say some good things about this movie. Well, the best thing about it is Ennio Morricone’s score (but I’ll come back to that). The two main reasons I watched this were for Morricone and to see Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Oscar-nominated performance since I’m a fan of hers (plus to be able to say I’ve seen all of Tarantino’s films, I suppose). The clue is in the title and all these characters are indeed hateful (which isn’t going to make it easy to like a movie very much) but Leigh was great & her character was the one I enjoyed watching the most. I’m glad she got the recognition for this role as the movie itself lets its talented actors & composer down. Samuel L Jackson & Kurt Russell were also very good (although Jackson was, once again, his over-the-top Tarantino self) but no one else in the cast really stood out compared to these three. The other characters were extremely weak for a Tarantino film – he usually manages to make even the smallest characters in a film interesting. Maybe it should’ve just been The Hateful Three. But that’s a shit title. Did he come up with the title first & then had to write in five extra boring characters? Ah ha! That must be what happened. Plus, I think there were actually more than eight so he’s full of shit (you don’t count, Channing Tatum! The Hateful Nine isn’t a good title).


But back to Ennio Morricone. Morricone is a movie music God. Like I said in my Jackie Brown interview, the one thing Tarantino always does right in his movies is the music and I know he was overjoyed when he got Morricone to agree to score this (I want Morricone to score my whole life. That would be awesome). Is it Morricone’s best score ever? Well, no, but you can’t really top something like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Yes, he probably won the Oscar for this mainly because the Academy realized they’d seriously f*^kd up in never giving him an Oscar (other than an honorary one) until now. I hadn’t even realized that beforehand – he’s someone you’d just assume already had one. Anyway! Here’s a good interview with Tarantino talking about how he got Morricone to do this score. Wow. Morricone is a true professional. It was a very last minute thing and Morricone did it in very little time & in a way he’s not used to usually working. Combined with unused parts of his score for The Thing, I can’t believe they managed to pull this all together so well in that length of time. Tarantino of course wants to use him again so just imagine what we’d get if Morricone is involved in the project from the very start. It gives me chills thinking about it. I just hope, if they do work together again, that the movie can live up to the score next time!

Oh. The cinematography was good too. There’s one more thing! The last & final good thing. The outdoor shots were quite beautiful and the opening, combined with Morricone’s score, was very good (I’ll post the opening scene below). Too bad the majority of the film is inside a dark, tiny cabin!!! To start out in a rather epic sort of way with this beautiful snowy landscape and to then end up stuck in a dark little cabin for what felt like far more than the 3 hour & 7 minute running time was so damn cruel. To us. Cruel to the audience. Never mind the characters! Although I suppose they would’ve frozen to death outside, so…

The Hateful Eight. It’s too damn long. It has a good score from a true master. It has three really good actors doing the best they can with a weak script. It’s pretty to look at when they’re actually outside that goddamn cabin. It’s violent as f^*k. It’s definitely a Tarantino film. I still like Tarantino’s films & I’ll still watch them all despite finding this one the most disappointing so far. To be fair, it could’ve been worse. But it could’ve been SO much better. And this review was meant to be short. Like Tarantino, I sometimes don’t know when enough is enough.

My Rating: 6/10

Music Video Friday: Faith No More – Last Cup Of Sorrow

Today’s video is Faith No More’s Last Cup Of Sorrow co-starring Jennifer Jason Leigh in a fun take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

I should’ve posted this video the week I posted My Top Ten Jennifer Jason Leigh Movies. Then I thought “Well, I’ll wait until I finally see The Hateful Eight then I can update that Top Ten & post this video”. Okay, I’ve still not seen The Hateful Eight but I just really felt like finally posting this video. So many awesome things combined! Faith No More, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Alfred Hitchcock! If only Totoro & David Bowie had somehow been in this video, too – then it would be the coolest thing EVER. 😉

I love Faith No More & always thought they were an underrated band at the time. Their songs still stick around on my iPod to this day whereas I’ve moved on from a lot of the other music I listened to in the late 80s/early 90s. I mean, who still has stuff like Candlebox on their iPod these days?! Ha – I seriously can’t now name one Candlebox song but I swear I have an entire Candlebox album knocking around somewhere in my house…

Last Cup Of Sorrow came along in 1997, much later than the album with their most well-known stuff (1989’s The Real Thing). I think everyone knows Epic but Midlife Crisis may be my favorite song.

Singer Mike Patton also had another band called Mr. Bungle. They made some pretty damn weird stuff. I liked the above album but can’t say I’ve heard it in years. I remember Squeeze Me Macaroni & I was kind of fond of the song Egg. My ex used to love both Faith No More & Mr. Bungle and was quite proud of the fact that he & his friend picked up some chicks once but managed to scare them off since he was playing Mr. Bungle. I can understand why but clearly I was weird enough to not be scared away. 😉 Patton also did the “creature vocals” for the movie I Am Legend since he can do such crazy shit with his voice. I love that bizarre fact.

Come to think of it, that ex had a collection of all of Faith No More’s videos. I should really buy that if it’s still available… It may be where I first saw this video – I don’t remember if it was a big enough hit to get much play on MTV? That’s a shame – I can’t think of any other Hitchcock-inspired music videos! A video like this would never get made now. I really miss the creativity there used to be in music. Where has that gone?!

Well, here’s Faith No More’s Vertigo-inspired video for Last Cup Of Sorrow, co-starring the lovely Jennifer Jason Leigh: 🙂

Okay – I just had to Google Candlebox to see if I remembered any of their songs. I think I vaguely remember Left Behind!

My Top Ten Jennifer Jason Leigh Movies

Happy Birthday to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who turns 54 tomorrow!

Leigh is of course up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Hateful Eight at the end of this month so it seemed like a good time to do a top ten. BUT! I have not yet seen The Hateful Eight… I will at some point as I do like Tarantino and then I suppose I can update this list as I’m hoping it’ll easily make the top ten??

At the moment, I’ve seen exactly ten of Leigh’s films (the other one that I really want to see besides The Hateful Eight is Rush). So, right now, these are My Top Ten Jennifer Jason Leigh MOVIES (not roles), counting down to my favorite:

**Updated March 2018 to add The Hateful Eight, Good Time & Annihilation**

13. Single White Female (Guilty pleasure, though)
12. Backdraft
11. The Hateful Eight (Didn’t love it but Leigh was great)

TOP TEN:

10. Dolores Claiborne

9. The Spectacular Now

8. Good Time

7. Annihilation

6. The Machinist

5. The Jacket

4. Road To Perdition

3. The Hitcher

2. eXistenZ

1. Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Non-Stop, The Spectacular Now & Used Cars Movie Reviews

Hope you all had a nice weekend! I have three more mini-reviews for you. This time we have a movie I was expecting to love but didnt, one I expected to like but hated, and one big ‘ol MEH movie. Let’s begin…

Non-Stop (2014)

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount

My Opinion:

This is the big ‘ol pile of MEH. I always fall behind on reviewing movies I watch at home but tend to keep on top of the ones I actually go to see. Well, I went to this one in the cinema (theatER!) last year but couldn’t summon up enough enthusiasm to review it. Liam Neeson is doing his Taken role again. I don’t know how he ended up being so typecast but I’m not too bothered as he was never exactly a favorite of mine anyway. At least that annoying Maggie Grace isn’t in this.

The plot is… okay, I guess, but it’s not helped by some lame acting and some laughably predictable moments. I mean, this is the basic plot on Wikipedia: Neeson is a U.S. Air Marshal on a flight to London when he “receives text messages on his secure phone stating that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specific bank account.” That actually sounds quite exciting, doesnt it?! It does! That’s why I went to it even though I can live without most popcorn action movies. I remember I was in the mood for a braindead action movie when I went to this, though, so I had some fun with it despite it being pretty damn ridiculous.

I was reminded when getting that plot synopsis that Neeson plays an alcoholic Air Marshal. Because he’s TROUBLED & has ISSUES to overcome, people! This is why the passengers aren’t sure if they can trust him when he starts acting like a raving lunatic! lol. I kind of forgot just how silly this one was. I didn’t totally hate it or anything. If you want a simple action movie where you won’t have to think & you like Liam Neeson being all Liam Neeson-y, give this a watch in your comfy living room.

My Rating: 5.5/10

The Spectacular Now (2013)

Directed by James Ponsoldt

Based on The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler

My Opinion:

I was desperate to see this movie when I heard about it but then it never came out in the UK and, much to my annoyance, I wasn’t able to see it for ages. All I kept hearing was that it was this generation’s Say Anything. Naturally, being my age, I adore Say Anything so I was like “I must see this Spectacular Now movie!!!”.

Umm… I guess I can see the Say Anything comparisons. If Lloyd Dobler (the sweetest, most perfect boyfriend in the history of film) had instead been a selfish, alcoholic prick. Yeah… the only thing this movie has in common with Say Anything is a role-reversal of the one-sided love story (Diane Court clearly doesn’t love you, Lloyd. But every female my age does, at least!). 😉

I suppose my expectations were too high for this movie after the Say Anything comparisons. I’ve not read the (I’m assuming YA) book this is based on – maybe it does a better job with Miles Teller’s character? I guess calling him a “prick” wasn’t totally fair – his character is just aimless & he has issues that lead to him drinking too much but he’s not exactly outright horrible to Shailene Woodley’s character. Wait, no – he really is kind of a prick. He clearly likes her but she’s crazy about him and he’s too self-absorbed to care about any negative impact his actions may have on her. It felt like he was just using her so it was very hard to like him. I think I just expected to like & care about the characters a bit more. This may be partly down to Teller, who I just can’t make myself like (even after Whiplash).

Woodley was good – this is the type of role that suits her way more than the one in Divergent. But her character is such a pushover, which was a little disappointing. I liked seeing Brie Larson, who I really liked in 21 Jump Street & Short Term 12, in a small role plus Jennifer Jason Leigh (eXistenZ!). But, if this is the current generation’s definition of a love story, then young people need to lighten up & watch a proper romance film. The Spectacular Now was far too dramatic and, unlike Say Anything, had no fun moments despite the heartache. On its own, not being compared to other movies, it’s certainly not a bad film. Don’t let my disappointment keep you from watching it if you’re interested – I know I just hyped it up in my mind too much. Just remember that it’s very much a “drama” if you decide to watch it and that you may not like Teller’s character.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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Used Cars (1980)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden, Gerrit Graham, Deborah Harmon

This was on Netflix so I gave it a watch since I like Kurt Russell, Robert Zemeckis, and, of course, the Eighties. I figured it couldn’t go wrong with those three things and maybe I’d get a few little laughs out of it. I hated it! I know that movies from my beloved decade haven’t all aged well and some can contain jokes that are seen as un-PC today. That sort of thing doesn’t usually bother me as I grew up with it but this movie just went a little too far with the cruel humor and outdated sexism.

First of all, (this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s obvious this is what’s going to happen) the only character who doesn’t come across as a selfish jerk (Jack Warden) dies and it turns a bit into Weekend At Bernie’s with some of the antics with this poor guy’s dead body (never mind the fact that he was essentially MURDERED for his crappy little car dealership. by his twin brother, no less!). I know death can occasionally be humorous in certain black comedies (Heathers rules) but this one didn’t sit right with me in a silly 80’s comedy. Kurt Russell & Gerrit Graham, who work for this guy and his dealership, do show a little sorrow but their main goal is to save their own jobs at whatever cost. It’s hard to care about them at first as they’re very hard to like but the movie redeems itself a tiny bit when the only female character who isn’t there just to be a pair of tits shows up (more about her later) but they’re cruel & do use her at first (luckily, they instead work with her by the end – the second half of this movie is much better than the first).

As for the women in Used Cars, they were treated no better than Warden’s dead body. I’m not a girl who’s going to demand that women be in every movie ever (two of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption & Stand By Me, don’t even have any women in them) but I expect female characters to be treated with the same respect as the male characters. Deborah Harmon is the only important female character and she’s fine but she’s also seen as quite helpless & needing Kurt Russell to come to the rescue since she can’t run a car dealership on her own (what do women know about cars?! actually, I admit that I know nothing about cars). I’m glad they work with her, though, (after cruelly lying to her about something important and of course sleeping with her) and as I said, the movie redeems itself a little in the second half. 

Hey – can I just go off topic & mention that I immediately recognized Deborah Harmon from the TV show Just The Ten Of Us? Am I the only one in the world who watched that short-lived Growing Pains spin-off?? I loved it! It had THREE Nightmare On Elm Street girls in it (THE Heather Langenkamp wanting to be a nun, the girl who turns into a bug, and “girl on bus” in Nightmare 2 – Yes, I discovered the “girl on bus” connection years later when the Internet came around). But back to this shitty Used Cars movie…

I know guys like boobs and there are loads of naked women in movies. I didn’t get that annoyed at the lead male characters in this sleeping around and using strippers to sell their cars. However, I found the very looooong scene where the male stars predictably expose a woman to a TV audience (without her approval) then actually zoom in on her breasts to be a step too far. And it went on for what felt like forever while she did nothing but scream like an idiot. Then, to top it all off, Graham’s character ends it by actually “honking” her boob. Seriously. He may have even made a honking sound effect (I’d check to verify but can’t be bothered). Umm. No. Unless you’re in a relationship with us, never ever “honk” our boobs. Plus Harmon’s character’s boobs get groped by a stranger for no apparent reason toward the end of the film. WTF? Gotta love the 1980s, I guess… I suppose I was more offended than I would have been watching something like Porky’s as you expect that sort of thing from that decade’s sex comedies and I didn’t realize beforehand that Used Cars would be like that.

Oops – this mini-review ended up being fairly long. I do go on a bit when I’m annoyed! Only watch this if you really love movies from the Eighties and you get excited by seeing people like Wendie Jo Sperber in a very small role. Yay! Wendie Jo Sperber! Luckily she went on to be in the much much much (much) better Zemeckis film Back To The Future. That movie is perfection – what the hell happened with Used Cars?! Ugh.

My Rating: 4.5/10 (it gets an extra half a point for Wendie Jo)

eXistenZ (1999) Review

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eXistenZ (1999)

Directed & Written by David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Sarah Polley, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe

Running time: 97 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.

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My Opinion:

I’d call myself a David Cronenberg fan although there are quite a few movies of his from recent years that I haven’t seen. Looking at everything he’s directed, all my favorites are from 1979 to 1986. This is when he was at his body horror best and I far preferred that style to the more realistic violence of things like A History Of Violence (although it’s a good film). I suppose that’s why I haven’t gotten around to watching more of his post-1986 movies. 1999’s eXistenZ is a return, somewhat, to the older Cronenberg that I like best. It’s certainly not as good as The Fly, Videodrome, The Brood, etc, but I did enjoy it and it’s made me want to try harder to watch the rest of his films that I’ve not seen.

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I find that a lot of these older “virtual reality” movies don’t really age well. That sort of thing is so much more advanced than we’d have thought possible even back in 1999 so, although it may have been groundbreaking at the time(?), that side of things isn’t as impressive when watching this for the first time in 2015. Just like Snow Crash was a great book in 1992 but it’s weird that they’re choosing to make it into a film now (although I’m really anxious to see if they manage to do a good job with that one!). Can I just say that I think it should be a law or something that any cyberpunk film being made nowadays should have a score by Daft Punk? Yes, I did like TRON: Legacy more than a lot of people seemed to. 😉 Hey – since I’m totally off track now (I’ll get back to eXistenZ in a minute), can someone please tell me the name of a horror movie I caught part of on cable in maybe 1996/1997 or so where these teenagers were being killed inside a video game? No, I can’t even name any of the actors in it. I’ve been trying to find out what that movie was for years now… Okay – back to eXistenZ!

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I didn’t hate Jude Law in this! I mean, I didn’t love him but he was totally tolerable. I also thought Jennifer Jason Leigh was very good – I’ve always thought she was a bit of an odd one but this role really “fit” her. Maybe she should have done more strange films like this one? And I loved her hair! I liked the partially crimped thing she had at first and then how it was fully done while in the virtual world. I know I sound like a girly girl going on about a hairstyle but, looking back on how this movie ended, I’m thinking the hair is kind of important to figuring out what the hell is going on… Amiright?! Probably not but, if I watch this again, I’m going to watch her hair more closely throughout it. I thought she was really pretty in this, actually – I never really thought that about her. I’d have to say this is my favorite role of hers now.

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The story in eXistenZ first felt pretty straightforward, then was a bit all over the place Cronenberg-style, then the ending felt a bit “really? that’s it?! I could have guessed that but it seemed too simple!”. But maybe it’s NOT that simple? I suppose it’s one of those movies that could do with a second (or third) viewing to fully understand what’s going on but I often like to think there’s more to movies than there really is. I’m sure I missed some symbolism (other than the usual, obvious vaginal thing that Cronenberg loves, this time in the form of a “port” in people’s lower backs that they use to link directly into Leigh’s virtual reality game. with a cord that looks like a cross between an umbilical cord & a penis, of course!). It was pretty gross, actually. I loved it! Very Cronenberg. As was a very cool “gun” made out of bones & human teeth.

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There are several big names in this so it was surprising that they all had pretty small roles (Ian Holm, Christopher Eccleston, Willem Dafoe). They’re not necessarily unimportant roles but Law & Leigh are in it the most by far, so it’s good that they worked really well for the film & had a good chemistry. Perhaps it’s why this film isn’t as big as some of Cronenberg’s others, though, as the two main stars weren’t exactly big names compared to other films he’d done (Law is more famous now than I remember him being in 1999). Plus, they’re a bit younger and they’re attractive so it almost feels like this movie is aimed more at a younger generation but I don’t think a young audience (early twenties) will have gone for this movie as it’s far too “strange” for a time when American Pie was the big movie of the year. (I’m not trashing American Pie – I like that one too).

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Anyway, eXistenZ passed me by at the time (as I think it did a lot of other people) but, although it’s not as good as Cronenberg’s very best, it’s still of a similar sort of style to his best films and I enjoyed it. There’s just enough “WTF?” and “that’s kind of disgusting” moments to keep Cronenberg fans happy but I’d probably only recommend this one to his fans.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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The Machinist (2004) Review

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The Machinist (2004)

Directed by Brad Anderson

Starring:
Christian Bale
Jennifer Jason Leigh
John Sharian
Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Michael Ironside

Running time: 102 minutes

Plot Synopsis:

Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is a machinist who hasn’t slept for a year. He seems to be losing his grip on reality as strange things start happening and he starts seeing things no one else can see. Is it due to his insomnia or is something more going on?

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My Opinion:

A few people voted for The Machinist when I asked everyone which film I should review next. It was a good few months ago that I saw it but I’ll do my best to recall my thoughts on the film.

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I think it’s common knowledge how far Christian Bale was willing to go for this role when he lost weight to the point of looking dangerously emaciated. That was certainly impressive – it’s amazing what some actors will do to themselves for a role. I suppose it made his character even more believable as he certainly looked like someone who hasn’t slept in a year and is slowly losing his mind. So it’s a great performance from him but, physical appearance aside, doesn’t seem much different from other performances we’ve had from him. Am I in trouble for that? I’m sorry – he’s an actor I’ve never really liked but I’m not going to try to explain myself because I have no idea why I feel that way. So let’s move on. 😉

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I enjoyed the story itself. I like a good psychological thriller. I’ve always liked films where someone is (or appears to be) “losing their mind”. That’s definitely the case here. Trevor starts seeing things no one else seems to see. He talks to a new co-worker named Ivan but when he mentions Ivan to his other co-workers, no one has heard of him. He starts finding post-it notes on his refrigerator showing a threatening game of hangman which progresses throughout the movie. Plus there’s what appears to be blood seeping out of his freezer door…

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His only friends are a prostitute named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a waitress named Maria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) & her young son Nicholas. His co-workers, including Miller (played by Michael Ironside), turn on him when his apparent paranoia becomes a dangerous interference at work. Michael Ironside! I love that dude – Jack Nicholson on a budget. These co-stars were all good and seemed just right for their roles, especially Jason Leigh.

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Summary:

Christian Bale was very impressive in The Machinist, I thought everyone was well cast, and I had a fun time trying to figure out the mystery of whether or not Bale was actually going insane. Overall, though, the movie didn’t quite work for me. It was dark, dreary, had someone slowly losing his mind, and kept the audience guessing all the way as to what was actually going on. I like all those things so I’m not quite sure why I didn’t like it more than I did. It’s certainly worth a watch but is more of a “weekend afternoon” movie than I was expecting. In the end, I felt like I had watched a REALLY good Lifetime movie (minus Nancy McKeon). Oh, that’s harsh. Luckily, only those in the US of a certain age will know what I’m on about. And, hey – I loved those Lifetime movies. What I’m saying is that The Machinist ends up being more simple than it first appears. I was expecting something a little deeper but it was still a fun ride.

My Rating: 7/10

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Yes, everyone is just as happy throughout the movie as they look in the above pictures.