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Annihilation

Annihilation

I'm trying to imagine what the opposite of Annihilation is and I can't.
Is it a Jennifer Aniston / Jason Bateman movie?

dir: Alex Garland

2018

Damn. Now that was an unsettling experience.

Annihilation was not what I was expecting, and I’d already read a bunch of reviews referencing Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, all of which I’ve seen / endured / survived. Mostly, Solaris, one of the most sleep inducing movies ever made, and Stalker, the other most sleep inducing movie ever made, are referenced. Everything’s always just a collection of references, naturally, but these are two very specific, very necessary ones.

Rest assured, Annihilation is nowhere near as boring as any of those movies mentioned. It has too much forward momentum, too many evil crazy bears and alligators, and people confronting the unknown and being painfully fucked by the unknown to have too much in common with the films of the Russian master.

Annihilation, though, is not a cheap and easy flick cobbled together from the remnants of a thousand other sci-fi flicks. It is, like many of the other flicks Alex Garland has been associated with, a fairly unique experience. Yes, there are antecedents, but it stands alone, and mostly unloved, but it deserves at least a certain amount of respect.

He used to just write the screenplays before, but then he must have thought “fuck it, I can do at least as good a job as the shmucks directing my work” and for once he seems to be right. Virtually everyone who saw Ex Machina thought it was pretty good, if not great, and on the back of that somehow somewhy Netflix coughed up a bunch of money to buy the flick after Paramount lost faith with the end product. Some people saw it in cinemas, but really, Netflix is the perfect venue for this. It’s visually strong but it’s not something that has to be seen on the big screen. Its virtues aren’t purely visual, they’re more conceptual, and that’s fine for the home theatre.

It’s an odd flick, that’s for sure. It doesn’t fit completely in either the science fiction genre or the horror genre, nor is it really an amalgam of the two. It does have a predominately female cast, but that doesn’t really change the nature of the flick even if it changes its tenor, its tone.

Rating:

Blade Runner 2049

2049

This was the best poster I could find for it, and
they still missed the point. Unless they wanted to
trick those pesky Ghost In The Shell fans into watching it

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2017

It’s amazing that they tried to do this.

I’m glad that they did it, in some ways. Yes, the original is a bona fide 80s sci-fi classic. On the other hand, there’s not really a sense that some mercenary jerks got together and thought “Hey, we need to make oodles more money from exploiting a franchise famous for being a box office failure but a critical darling, because that’ll definitely work”.

Or maybe they were that delusional. It happens. They made a Baywatch movie, after all.

Instead of going down the commercial route, they seem to have made a very expensive film, and spent a fortune advertising it (I assume it’s a fortune if I see posters advertising it at the tram and bus stops in my neighbourhood), completely at odds with what was likely to happen with audiences.

So, just to leap ahead to the end result: Blade Runner 2049 lost way more money and connected with far fewer people than the original did. Maybe that was all part of the plan?

Which is a shame, because in a lot of ways it’s a better film, and is quite compelling, even if it is the continuation of a story that no-one really asked for. Also, it has as its centre an actor who seems content to be a void more than a presence, which is his prerogative, I guess. Say what you will about Harrison Ford, but whatever role he’s in or however good or back the flick is that he’s in, he is very much present. He very much fills a role with his presence.

Not so much Ryan Gosling, who has raised impassivity to an art form. It might sound like I’m criticising him for his performance here, but I’m really not, because I don’t doubt that he probably did exactly what the director wanted for this role. You needed a blue-eyed robot for a role; you got the most blue-eyed robot of them all.

Rating:

The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi

Love the posters. Don't really know what film they're from

dir: Rian Johnson

2017

So, yeah, I didn’t care for it.

Not my cup of tea.

Maybe I’m just burned out on the whole Star Wars saga. It’s possible. I’ve consumed more of it on a daily basis than any doctor outside of George Lucas’s doctor would ever recommend without receiving corrupt money directly from Disney.

But something, or rather many somethings, just didn’t feel right about this movie.

I don’t get where it’s coming from. I don’t really get why the characters do most of the dumb things they do, and where the actions aren’t dumb and maybe seem kinda cool it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Star Wars flick, or this flick specifically.

It seems more like it belongs in a Rian Johnson flick. Sure, I know he’s the director, and had he not been able to superimpose his stamp over such an entrenched property like Star Wars, it would have just seemed like generic work-for-hire stuff that anyone could have produced (anyone other than Lucas). But there’s a sometimes distracting cleverness to Rian Johnson’s stuff, as seen in his flicks like Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper and in several Breaking Bad episodes that he had a hand in.

The best example of what I’m talking about – distracting smartarsedness – is not even from Last Jedi. It’s from Brick. Bear with me, I swear it (might) make sense in the long run.

Rating:

Alien Covenant

Alien Covenant

Damn, that does not look like a fun Saturday night out

dir: Ridley Scott

2017

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. What is Ridley Scott on?

What’s his major malfunction? Why is this the story he needs to tell? He could be doing anything instead of this. Literally anything else. He could be making The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel or an adaptation of Adaptation or a new version of Birth of a Nation, but instead he makes this?

Continuing the pointlessness that started with Prometheus, which I initially thought was pretty shit but now looks better compared to this flick (not by much), Ridley Scott continues in his strange crusade to fill out the gaps no-one knew existed or even cared about regarding the origins of the terrifying creatures usually referred to as xenomorphs, made popular by the creepy HR Giger design.

It started with Alien. Reached its apotheosis with Aliens. Wasted our time with Alien 3. Confused the universe with Alien: Resurrection. Delighted no-one with Alien Vs Predator. Angered everyone who watched Alien vs Predator: Requiem.

Then we got some horribly pointless backstory with Prometheus, that showed some bald species of albinos seeding a planet that was probably Earth with, I dunno, their DNA or something, for the purposes of… something. Humans and an android stumble across something ages later, and it’s meant to mean that an alien species they refer to as the Engineers probably had something to do with life starting on Earth, on other planets, and they probably created the xenomorphs (vicious reptilian acid-blooded chomping legends) too.

Well, whatever it was that happened in that previous flick, and whatever the reason was that Scott demanded that story be told, here he is elaborating upon it, like a drunk sitting next to you on a plane telling you some well-polished anecdote from their past that they’ve forgotten why they started telling you, and you never started caring and just keep hoping that the plane will crash so that you don’t have to listen to it any longer.

Rating:

Okja

Okja

Being tasty appears to be very bad for your health.
Smoking's cool, though.

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2017

Sublime. Silly. Surreal.

That’s my all encompassing take on Korean cinema in general and the films of Bong Joon-ho in particular. Like all generalisations, it ignores a lot of nuances and detail to say something so simplistic and reductive, but, hey, at least I just made a generalisation about generalisations.

I would not be exaggerating to say that Okja is the strange reason I started subscribing to Netflix. Having had the ‘flix for the last month or so, and this isn’t a thinly veiled ad for the service, I can honestly say, what the fuck was I waiting for? Not to blow too much smoke up their collective arses, but it is incredible how much stuff I’ve gotten to watch through subscribing to this service. How did I live before…?

And why was it Okja that broke the seal on my intransigence? I dunno, but for some reason I was enthralled by its existence, and I couldn’t think of any other way to watch it when I wanted to watch, which was the day of its release, soon after its premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it received… tepid to okay reviews. The main point of contention at the time, if I recall (it’s not like I was there, it’s just what I read), that many of the people at the screenings objected to something being promoted at Cannes that wasn’t really intended for cinemas, despite the much bigger budget that Bong had access to, which was probably bigger than all the other film budgets he’s ever had combined.

I don’t know how to feel about that. It’s seems a bit Luddite, a bit petty, and a bit wilfully ignorant of the changes in the media landscape to boo a film before it’s even screened with a nasally French accent to the booing, no less. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in this life that denying something is happening doesn’t actually make that thing not happen. If it did, I can assure you, a lot of stuff that happened this year never would have troubled us, because they would have been willed out of existence.

Rating:

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Guardians 2

I wouldn't let them guard a sandwich let alone a whole galaxy

dir: James Gunn

2017

Meh. I’m left feeling pretty meh after watching that. That it was an experience of sorts is undeniable. What I can’t really grasp yet is what kind of experience it was.

It didn’t really feel like a movie, let alone a Marvel movie. In a lot of scenes I felt like I was watching people rehearsing scenes from a bunch of different plays, and really so much of it doesn’t really hang together. Maybe it was like one of those interactive rides at a theme park where it’s really not that interactive and it’s over awfully quickly, and at best you remember that you had an experience without remembering what the experience was.

Unless it happened at Dreamworld, in which case you’re lucky to still be alive after the ride. Damn that place is a Deathtrap on the Gold Coast™.

And while I’m the first to admit that I had, shall we say, ambiguous feelings about the flick up to this specific point, if I thought the flick was lame / unsatisfying before the “father and son bond over playing catch” scene, afterwards, when the cold sweat of embarrassment faded, my feelings about it were no longer ambiguous, I can tell you that much.

No. In fact, I thought for a while that this could be the lamest / dumbest thing I’d seen in a while, but then there were little bits and pieces that made me not loathe it as much.

Rating:

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

They really did think they were going to get sweaty nerds in a lather with this flick

dir: Rupert Sanders

2017

Well. That was something.

Yes, this is the part where I talk about something other than the film I’m pretending to review. I have seen the Japanese animated movie at least a thousand times, and I had the soundtrack, or at least songs from it on various music-playing devices for ages and heard those crazy Japanese wailing banshee songs at least 10,000 times. The (original) movie is in my DNA. Hearing that they were going to make a new version of it, I thought, rightly “so what?”

My relationship with the original, whatever it might be, can’t really be changed or tainted or in any way damaged or even really improved by something that comes out twenty years later, can it? Is this like what happened with the Indiana Jones flicks, where the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls made me hate myself for liking the first three movies, and childhoods were destroyed etc etc?

Rating:

Arrival

Arrival

With hope and patience and open hearts, no matter the colour of blood they
might pump, perhaps we can figure this puzzle of our existence out.

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2016

There aren’t many science fiction films that leave me crying or thoughtful as I sit blubbing through the credits. The reason is this – most science fiction flicks aren’t really science fiction flicks. They’re action flicks with science fiction set dressing and costuming.

Arrival is definitely not an action flick masquerading as a science fiction flick. It is certainly about a first contact scenario with what we would call actual alien aliens, who appear on Earth without even the courtesy of an advance email or nothin’.

They just appear, and they don’t even seem to want anything. They don’t want our resources, or our women, or anything. They just sit there, in their ships, waiting.

This is enough to make the leaders of several countries think “We should be blowing the ever-living fuck out of them, because their very presence makes us uncomfortable”.

It’s frustrating to see, but when I look at the world we currently live in, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. When some ‘just listening to right-wing extremists on the internet’ Marines think, for no sensible reason “well, let’s just blow them up!”, it seems discordant, and arbitrary, but again, I look at Trump’s America, and I don’t think the naughty soldiers would have even been able to wait as long as they did.

Rating:

Rogue One

Rogue One

I don't know why, but seeing the addendum "a Star Wars story" makes
me want to claw my eyes out for some reason.

dir: Gareth Edwards

2017

Yeah, so, Star Wars movies: for or against?

They always make a billion dollars, they’re as familiar as cheesecake with a similar level of consistency and taste, and they’re completely and utterly unnecessary.

And yet…

I ask myself what need there is (other than the financial) in this world for more Star Wars movies, especially since there seems to be no intention or interest in telling any ‘new’ stories, just in telling the previous ones again and again. The Force Awakens was maligned by some for being a retread of A New Hope, but what would you even say about this one here, Rogue One, replete with its fixation on daddy issues, ending, as it does, exactly at the point where A New Hope, or Star Wars, as we used to know it as, begins?

It’s less of a new construction, and more of an annex or extension on an existing McMansion that’s already plenty monstrously big okay thanks for asking bye.

It was, somewhat dishonestly, touted as a substantially different kind or type of Star Wars film, since it didn’t have any Jedi or Skywalkers in it and had a very different emphasis, being predominately more of a war movie, or at least as much of a war movie than usual.

Rating:

Midnight Special

Midnight Special

He's not from around here and he's not like us and he looks a bit funny.
And the kid's a bit weird, too.

dir: Jeff Nichols

2016

Strange yet familiar. That can be a potent combination. It can also be a boring one that fails to elicit any feelings, positive or negative.

Midnight Special is strange, certainly, as is any flick in which you have bug-eyed Michael Shannon in any role. He brings the weird to virtually any flick he’s in, no matter how large or small the role. He’s just that kind of guy. But the real ‘twist’ here is that Michael Shannon’s character isn’t the villain, or some random paranoid lunatic screaming about the doom that awaits us all, but a caring father trying to protect his special-needs son from this harsh and uncaring world.

Well, actually, as in many of these situations, it’s sometimes the world that needs to be protected from them.

This isn’t the origin story for some superhero kid, but it almost plays out like it should be. It’s very much all mysterious in the beginning. Two grunting guys in a car with a kid along for the ride drive recklessly through the night getting away from something or towards something else. We know the cops are after them, but we don’t know why.

Rating:

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