A new review from The Movie Snob.
Annihilation (B-). This new sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman (Thor) is loosely based on a novel from just a few years ago. I think I liked the book better (see my review here). As in the novel, a weird phenomenon kind of like a dome has descended on some remote, swampy area (Florida maybe?), and weird stuff is going on inside. The government occasionally sends a team into the mysterious area to investigate. (Almost) no one ever comes back. Portman plays a soldier–biologist named Lena who joins the latest mission, a five-woman expedition led by psychologist Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding). Once they venture into Area X, it turns into sort of a horror movie, so don’t go if you’re squeamish! Anyhoo, I didn’t like it as well as director Alex Garland’s previous effort, Ex Machina, but Annihilation still held my attention.
I saw Annihilation at a new Alamo Drafthouse here in Dallas, and I caught most of the pre-show. It included a couple of old music videos of a children’s rock band that featured . . . a nine-year-old Natalie Portman! It was pretty entertaining.
A new review from the pen of The Movie Snob.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (D). OK, this art-house flick had a couple of things going for it. Number one, it was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed the surpassing weird 2016 flick The Lobster. And really number one, it stars the luminous Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!). Unfortunately, the movie left me cold. Colin Farrell (who was in The Lobster and recently appeared with Kidman in The Beguiled) plays Steven Murphy, a successful heart surgeon who is married to a successful eye doctor (Kidman) and has a beautiful house and two nice kids. But as in The Lobster, everything is just a shade off; everyone is stiff, and every conversation is stilted. And Steven has a mysterious relationship with an odd sixteen-year-old boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk), who imposes himself on Steven more and more as time passes. I can say no more without committing spoilers, but suffice to say there are elements of suspense, horror, and black humor that get ratcheted up the deeper into the movie we go. The performances are good (accepting that the director wanted his actors to act like strange, semi-anesthetized human beings), and none other than good old Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) pops up as Martin’s mom. But at two hours the weirdness went on a little too long for my taste, and I didn’t think the ending was great.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Alien: Covenant (C-). Looking back, I see that I liked Prometheus quite bit and had high hopes for the next Alien prequel. Alas, those hopes are far from fulfilled in the latest flick about the almost-indestructible critters with a taste for human flesh. The Covenant is a large spaceship carrying a huge load of people in cryogenic sleep for a 7+ year voyage to a planet they hope will be hospitable enough for them to colonize. An accident damages the ship and leads to the waking of its small human crew. They receive a communications signal that lures them off course to a much closer, and previously unknown, habitable planet. Who could possibly be way out here? The survivors of the Prometheus expedition, perhaps? Once they arrive, it’s only a matter of time (a very short time) before the humans start getting turned into alien chow, and we don’t know or like them enough to really care that much. I was annoyed that some of the biological “facts” I thought we knew about the aliens from the earlier films seem to be disregarded in this one. The humans do all sorts of stupid things to earn their gruesome ends, and despite all the mayhem only one scene struck me as really, memorably horrifying. Billy Crudup (Big Fish) plays the ineffectual captain of the Covenant, but the real stars are Katherine Waterston (Sleeping with Other People) as the Sigourney Weaveresque heroine and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) playing both android David from Prometheus and android Walter from the Covenant. I’d say this movie is for diehard Alien fans only.
P.S. The movie has lots of ponderous philosophical window-dressing too; for more on that you can read Steven Greydanus’s review here.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (B-). Somehow I missed this 2014 black & white foreign-language vampire flick during its original release, but happily a friend invited me to a special showing last night at the Alamo Drafthouse. (Actually I tried to talk her into seeing Logan instead, but she wasn’t having it. She’s been a big vampire fan ever since New Moon.) It’s a weird movie, but interesting. Our hero is some ordinary guy living in a bleak industrial town called Bad City. His father is a junkie, and a drug dealer takes our hero’s beloved car because dad can’t pay his debts. Then the drug dealer abuses a prostitute who works for him. This draws the ire of our vampire (Sheila Vand, Argo), an ordinary-seeming woman who ghosts around town at night and can sprout fangs in a jiffy. Later she menaces a little boy and takes his skateboard. After that she meets our hero after he has gone to a costume party (as Dracula!), and instead of making a meal out of him she actually seems to start liking him. But you’re never really sure if she’s eventually going to chomp on him or not; her affect is pretty flat. More stuff happens after that, in a slow, moody, artsy kind of way. It held my interest.
(I’m categorizing it as a foreign film because it’s in Farsi, but I have read that it was actually shot in California. The director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is Iranian-American.)
This was my first trip to an Alamo Drafthouse, and it was a pretty interesting experience. We got to our theater pretty early, and before getting to the real previews they showed a bunch of film clips and trailers from cheesy old horror movies back-to-back. It was fine to set the mood, I guess, but it made conversation difficult. I got food, which I seldom do at movie theaters, and got a mediocre Royale Burger with Cheese and some cold fries out of the deal. The seats were comfy, though.
The Movie Snob is creeped out—but not in a good way.
Split (F). I had not seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie since Lady in the Water, but it sounded like many critics were hailing this as a return to form, or at least the director’s best work in a long while. And I was curious to see good guy James “Professor Xavier” McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) play the villain. So I decided to give it a try. I found that I agreed with the minority of critics who have criticized this movie as a nasty, icky, exploitative piece of work. McAvoy plays a fellow with multiple-personality disorder. At the beginning of the movie he kidnaps three teenaged girls and locks them up in some sort of industrial-looking subterranean labyrinth. He takes some of their clothes. He ominously warns them that they are going to become “sacred food” for “the beast.” In short, the threat of sexual violence is omnipresent. Making matters worse, child abuse and child sexual abuse are alluded to in some very unpleasant flashbacks. I hope the young co-stars (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch; Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen; Jessica Sula, TV’s Recovery Road) find better movies to star in. Much better.
P.S. I always like to make a note when I am the only person in the theater for a movie, and I think that was the case with this one. It was a few days ago, though, so don’t quote me on that.
A movie review from The Movie Snob.
Morgan (D). Okay, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did The Movie Snob waste his time with this poorly reviewed sci-fi thriller?” Basically, I saw it because it features Anya Taylor-Joy, who was quite good in the recent spookfest The Witch: A New-England Folktale, and I wanted to see more of her acting chops. Unfortunately, this movie was not a good showcase for anybody. Kate Mara (The Martian) stars as Lee Weathers, a corporate honcho sent to investigate an “accident” at a secret research facility under a spooky old backwoods house. Turns out that genetic experiments have resulted in the creation of Morgan (Taylor-Joy), a freaky smart and strong teenaged girl who is actually only 5 years old. And we all know how playing God with genetic experiments goes. There’s very little fun to be had, but it is sort of fun watching notable actors you didn’t know were in the movie pop up unexpectedly. Hey, there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Spectacular Now)! And Paul Giamatti (Rock of Ages)! And that guy who played Agamemnon in Troy! But the movie is basically a stale retread of other movies, some better (Ex Machina, Hanna) and some not (Species). The ending is a real howler. Skip it.
The Movie Snob dishes up a new review.
10 Cloverfield Lane (B). I didn’t see Cloverfield, so I have no idea how or if this new movie dovetails with that one. But if you like your movies suspenseful with a side of intense paranoia, this may be the movie for you. The set-up is fast and intense. Within the first few minutes, an attractive woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed) flees her current boyfriend for undisclosed reasons, gets into a bad car wreck in the middle of nowhere, and wakes up in some sort of underground bunker. Her captor, Howard (a menacing John Goodman, Argo), insists that the world above ground has been destroyed in some kind of “attack”—possibly by Martians. Obviously he seems to be crazy . . . but is he? There are some parts when I just couldn’t suspend disbelief, but the movie generally managed to keep me in the moment. One final note: the theater where I saw the movie had the volume uncomfortably loud a lot of the time, to the point that I covered my ears sometimes. Maybe it was just the place where I saw it (a Studio Movie Grill), but be warned!