In the climactic finale of Annihilation, there is a moment in which a shape-shifting alien bioclone with burning arms lovingly embraces a charred corpse in a lighthouse that has been struck by a meteor and overtaken by a mutated blight that threatens all life as we know it. Go ahead and read that sentence again if you have to. I dare you to try to come up with something so outlandish, so unsettling, so straight-up weird, much less deploy it at a crucial moment in a multimillion-dollar motion picture production. We live in a time where pretty much every sci-fi film with a budget this size (about $40 million) ends one way: explosions. The scripts all contain the same line: Big CGI Thing bursts into CGI flame. Heck, explosions probably typify the finale of most Hollywood films, sci-fi or otherwise, and the scripts for their inevitable sequels all contain the same line: Bigger CGI Thing bursts into bigger CGI flame.
But Annihilation goes a long way to assuaging the bitterness now associated with what the Hard Sci-Fi genre has threatened to become, and writer/director Alex Garland might just be the beacon of hope in this regard. It was already clear that Garland’s a formidable painter, but it’s still special to see a wider canvas filled with such vibrant colors. His debut directing gig Ex Machina knocked it out of the park (and is in some senses a superior film), but with Annihilation he gets more characters, more locations, more visual effects and more freedom to tell the story his way.
Continue reading Annihilation (2018)
Right before Jurassic World started my seatmate turned to me and inquired after my favorite dinosaur. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t thought about what my favorite dinosaur was for a solid few years, that despite my boyish charms I actually wasn’t in third grade. I shrugged and said Tyrannosaurus. Good ol’ T. Rex is what would pop into my head if you approached me and said “dinosaur”, so maybe that kind of bias does qualify the stub-armed carnivore as a darling dino of mine. Seatmate agreed.
The more I weighed this pressing question the more I believed answering it to be a requisite for instant peace of mind. I was, I remembered, quick to raise an eyebrow when that Spinosaurus took down a T. Rex in Jurassic Park III — can they do that? This is T. Rex, Ancient King of the World, and he gets taken out by Dinosauria threequelae? And in the sequel The Lost World, which features a Tyrannosaurus loose on the mainland in the climax, we should really be honest about who we’re rooting for in that scenario. Though it traded the color and wonder of the first film for a considerably darker tone and palette, The Lost World succeeded in taking the bull of the first film and finding a more expensive china shop.
Continue reading Jurassic World (2015)
It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.
Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.
Continue reading It Follows (2015)
– Oscars went to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything (Best Actor), Julianne Moore for Still Alice (Actress), and Birdman for mostly everything else. A huge fist pump goes to Whiplash for winning three out of their five nominations, including a long overdue acting award for J.K. Simmons. All in all, a fairly good year for movies.
-It turns out Neill Blomkamp actually is directing a new Alien movie, not just Instagramming it. Thoughts?
-After shitting on him a little bit in last week’s news roundup, Kodi Smit-McPhee got cast in X-Men: Apocalypse as the supercool mutant Nightcrawler. We’ll have our apology ready for when he nails it.
-Happily, The Man in the High Castle got picked up by Amazon for a full first season; sadly, Niko and the Sword of Light did not.
Continue reading Film & TV News: February 23
I think of Ridley Scott as a badass. Chalk it up to me being a little tyke when Gladiator and Black Hawk Down came out, or to his most famous films being the sleek and surefooted sci-fi flicks Alien and Blade Runner. I watched his most recent film Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Moses is played by Batman, and the reaction was more or less the same: this dude just made the Bible badass. Let’s be clear in stating that Exodus is a pretty poor effort, and so I don’t mean “badass” as a full compliment. But that sleekness and that direct, immediate pacing holding a healthy amount of action is what I associate Scott with, and if nothing else Exodus certainly was a spectacle.
Then I watched 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Gérard Depardieu plays Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, fighting to explore what he knows to exist past the European horizon. The film opens in 1490 or so, as Columbus gathers a head of steam for his royally-financed expedition — the always-superb Armand Assante plays the nobleman Sanchez, and Sigourney Weaver plays Queen Isabel. Columbus pushes for his dream. Sanchez and Co. conspire to gain from the ambition of the explorer, and there’s an overwhelming sense in this opening half-hour that — for lack of a better descriptor — shit is about to go down. Maybe Sanchez will plant a spy on the Santa Maria, or maybe he’ll do something even more dastardly.
Continue reading 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)