Annihilation

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.

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Black Panther

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Black Panther (C).  I don’t know, maybe it’s just comic-book-movie fatigue, but this flick left me feeling like I’d just watched a 135-minute-long video game.  Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War) stars as King T’Challa of the poor African nation of Wakanda.  Only it’s not really poor; it’s sitting on a mountain of an alien metal called vibranium and has mastered all sorts of advanced technology, including some sort of cloaking device to conceal it all from the outside world.  But bad guys in the outside world are trying to get a hold of some vibranium, so T’Challa (who is also superhero Black Panther) and a few sidekicks leave Wakanda to stop them.  And then they have to deal with another bad guy after the first bad guys.  It all felt so weightless that I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it.  Also stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and features Angela Bassett (How Stella Got Her Groove Back), Forest Whitaker (Rogue One), and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Movie Snob heads for a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  (B-).  Okay, Episode VIII in the ongoing space/soap opera about the Skywalker family is here, and the critics are generally loving it.  Put me down with the small band of dissenting critics.  On the plus side, it is better than the last installment, The Force Awakens, if only because it is not a slavish remake of an earlier movie.  On the down side, it is still somewhat derivative of its predecessor The Empire Strikes Back, with an evil empire on the march, a rebellion on the run, and a would-be Jedi seeking training from a wise mentor.  Worse still, it is a solid two-and-a-half hours long, with as many false endings as The Return of the King from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Still, I appreciated that writer–director Rian Johnson did try to throw some new wrinkles at us.  Mark Hamill (Star Wars: A New Hope) is a surprisingly crotchety Luke Skywalker.  The late Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally) presents a stoic Rebel leader but doesn’t really have that much to do.  And our quartet of new main characters (Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron) gets split up for most of the movie, which means a lot of jumping back and forth.  I think the movie would have been much better if the first half had been trimmed a bunch, and the exciting stuff at the end stretched out a bit.  But it’s already made almost a billion dollars worldwide, so what do I know?

Acceptance (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014).  Well, I thought this final volume of The Southern Reach Trilogy was a bit of a letdown.  The first two books (reviewed here and here) were pretty entertaining, in a mysterious and slightly creepy way.  In the near future, some strange, possibly alien, presence has set up shop on Earth (in an area that sounds like Florida).  Scientific expeditions occasionally go into the zone, known as Area X, but they don’t always come back.  Readers expecting all the weird goings-on around Area X to be explained in Acceptance are bound to be disappointed.  There are hints and flickers of explanations, and there’s lots of backstory fleshing out some of the characters we already met in the first two books, but I didn’t find the “resolution” of the trilogy particularly satisfying.  Oh well, the destination wasn’t great, but the journey wasn’t bad.  And the first book in the series, Annihilation, is being made into a movie starring Natalie Portman as The Biologist.  Check out its IMDB page.

Blade Runner 2049

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Blade Runner 2049  (C).  First, a confession.  Although I know I have seen some scenes from the original Blade Runner, I’m not sure I have ever seen the whole movie from beginning to end.  But I know the gist of it: in a gritty, dystopian future, a cop (Harrison Ford, (The Force Awakens) has to track down and kill some dangerous rogue androids who are trying to pass as humans.  I’ve even read the Philip K. Dick novel on which the movie was loosely based.

In 2049, thirty years after the events of Blade Runner, the future is still gritty and dystopian, and there are still rogue androids (or replicants, as they’re called) needing to be “retired.”  The twist is that our protagonist, android hunter K (Ryan Gosling, La La Land), is a replicant himself–and he knows it.  The opening sequence has him accomplishing an ordinary mission, but further investigation uncovers a mystery that he spends the rest of the movie (a long 2 hours and 44 minutes) unraveling.  The visuals are impressive, the music is deafening, and although I didn’t totally follow the convoluted plot it still mostly held my interest.  I thought Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was very good as the world-weary police chief that K reports to.  But I thought the most interesting part of the movie concerned K’s “home life,” so to speak.  As a replicant himself, does he have emotions?  It appears he has some emotional response, or tries to, to a holographic digital assistant called Joi (Ana de Armas, War Dogs), but flesh-and-blood human beings don’t seem to interest him.  His connection with Joi called other movies to mind, particularly her, Ex Machina, and even the recent Marjorie Prime.  And it didn’t hurt that Joi herself was stunningly beautiful.  Nevertheless, on the whole, the movie didn’t gel for me.  It’s too long, the final act isn’t great, and I didn’t think the ending made any sense.  And although there are quite a few important female characters, the movie has a misogynistic vibe.  So, there you have it.

Marjorie Prime

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Marjorie Prime  (C).  Hmmm, an independent sci-fi drama starring Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, and Jon Hamm?  Now that’s something you don’t see every day.  In fact, you hardly see Geena Davis and Tim Robbins in anything at all, do you?  I’m pretty sure A League of Their Own (1992) was the last movie I saw Davis in.  Anyway, this movie is a close relative of her, the movie in which Siri sounds like Scarlett Johansson and develops artificial intelligence.  In the near future of Marjorie Prime, computer engineers have largely perfected the ability to create a lifelike hologram of your deceased loved one.  Apparently the hologram starts out knowing the basic facts of the original person’s life, and then it learns more and more—and thus becomes more and more realistic—as you talk to it and tell it more things about the dearly departed. When the movie starts, an elderly woman with dementia named Marjorie (Lois Smith, Minority Report) is comforted by a hologram of her beloved husband Walter (Hamm, Baby Driver).  But Marjorie’s daughter (Davis) is not happy about it—envious of the attention Walter gets, perhaps?—and Marjorie’s son-in-law (Robbins, City of Ember) hangs back and observes the proceedings, usually with a strong drink in his hand.  Time goes by; other holograms (or “primes,” as they’re called) come into play.  The concept is an interesting one, but the movie is a little too quiet and slow for my taste.  Rex Reed’s review of this movie starts with this verdict: “Intellectually stimulating yet dramatically stunted.”  That sounds about right to me.

War for the Planet of the Apes

New review from The Movie Snob.

War for the Planet of the Apes  (B).  And so the new Apes trilogy comes to an end.  (Spoilers of the first two films follow.)

My favorite was the first one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which we see how a medical experiment gone wrong makes apes superintelligent and kills most of humanity.  The middle installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, was a solid if grim movie in which the apes and the surviving humans try to co-exist, with middling-at-best results.

The finale turns the grimness up to 11 as a human military band led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen) seems to be intent on wiping out the apes.  Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, Inkheart) decides to send most of his “people” on a quest for a safe haven while he and few trusted lieutenants set out to find and distract the Colonel.  Along the way they pick up a sweet mute human girl, whom they dub Nova (Amiah Miller, Lights Out), and then another talking ape, a not entirely sane chimpanzee who calls himself “Bad Ape” because that’s what his human captors called him before the plague.  As voiced by Steve Zahn (Sunshine Cleaning), Bad Ape provides some much-needed comic relief, because this War is dark dark dark.  But it’s well-made, on the whole.  (I did roll my eyes a little in the middle part when the Colonel momentarily turns into a James Bond villain and gives Caesar a massive lecture/monologue to explain why he’s doing what he’s doing and what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.)