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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Morgan

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.

Anomalisa

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Anomalisa  (B).  This is a strange movie—but it was written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), so it could hardly be otherwise.  It’s a stop-motion animated movie made with felt puppets, rather like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  But it’s justifiably rated R for “strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language,” so on the other hand it’s really not like Rudolph at all.  The main character is Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I), a middle-aged guy who is deep in the grip of the existential blues as he lands in a rainy Cincinnati on a quick, banal business trip.  But Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now), a nice young woman with self-esteem problems, rather steals the show.  Anyway, the movie is a pretty effective portrayal of the loneliness, angst, and boredom of life.  Is it more than that?  Hard to say.  But it kept my interest, and that counts for something.

The Spectacular Now

A new review from the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Spectacular Now  (B+).  This independent flick has been getting good buzz for its authentic take on how teenagers really live nowadays, and I thought it really was quite good.  Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) plays Sutter Keely, a high school senior whose happy-go-lucky persona and live-for-now philosophy semi-conceal a serious drinking problem.  After one of his benders, he wakes up lying in the front yard of a classmate, Aimee (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants), and she helps him look for his missing car.  Aimee is not part of Sutter’s social network, but she is sweet and pretty, and he is on the rebound, so they gradually become an item, and the movie goes on from there.  I thought the movie seemed fairly realistic in addressing Sutter’s alcoholism and his lingering issues from the fact that his dad walked out on his family when Sutter was a small child.  Interestingly, director James Ponsoldt’s last movie was Smashed, about a young married couple’s struggle with alcoholism (and Smashed star Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns up in this movie as Sutter’s older sister).  Good performances by the young stars, and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Margot at the Wedding) turns in nice supporting work as Sutter’s put-upon mom.  I’d probably have given the movie a higher grade, but I was a little disturbed by the movie’s cavalier attitude towards teenaged sex, which unlike drinking is presented as a positive and consequence-free sort of thing.  Even so, I thought it was a pretty good movie.

Margot at the Wedding

New from the desk of The Movie Snob

Margot at the Wedding (C). You’d think that a movie starring the radiant Nicole Kidman (The Human Stain) and the incredible Jack Black (whom I once recognized as the comedic genius of our time) would be totally awesome. Not so much, at least to me. Director Noah Baumbach made a bit of a splash with his last feature, The Squid and the Whale, which I did not see, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. Kidman plays Margot, a successful writer of short stories, who is dragging her young-adolescent son Claude to her sister Pauline’s wedding. Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now) is marrying Malcolm, who, since he is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), is by definition a somewhat buffoonish character. It quickly becomes clear that Margot is a terror. She excels at verbally hitting people where it hurts, and we are not surprised to hear that she caused the end of Pauline’s first marriage by strip-mining family woes for her fiction. The movie has some funny moments amid the tension and hostility, and the dialogue is generally good and believable. But it doesn’t really add up to anything much that I could see.

Nicole’s Margot is up a tree without a paddle