Tag Archives: Apocalypse Now

Annihilation (2018)

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.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts of No Nation lives in the space between realism and allegory. Uzodinma Iweala’s original novel approaches that space but seems far less concerned with it, narrated entirely by the young central character, Agu, in his simplistic present-tense dialect. A child soldier in West Africa, Agu’s journey in the novel is one of survival. His family is killed, and to avoid being killed himself he accepts an offer to join the army of the Commandant, a rebel warlord. At first he declares “I am not wanting to fight”; eventually, though, Agu is killing with knives and guns, willfully attacking “enemies”, tearing through his war-stricken country at the whim and call of the Commandant.

Everything about the novel is heartbreaking, but nothing more so than the sense that Agu is too young to realize that his journey across his country is also a descent into hell. The first-person narration is one that nonetheless conveys the bare minimum about Agu’s own thoughts and feelings about his actions, and yet at times it conveys more than enough. “I am liking it” — this is what Agu says about the sound of his knife hitting a woman’s head, about the splashing blood. It’s brutal in how direct it all is, in its impossibility and in its plausibility. Iweala never has to name the West African country or convince us that someone like Agu really exists; Agu very definitely does.

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Sicario (2015)

I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?

The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man (1949)
Sicario (2015)
Sicario (2015)

Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.

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Film & TV News: September 16

News

  • The Toronto International Film Festival continues to champion small, independent art-house efforts while the vast majority of us sit back and continue to pretend to care. Meanwhile, the King Kong and Godzilla franchises are merging.
  • In other festival news, the 53rd New York Film Festival kicks off in just over a week. Check out the teaser for the festival below, and be sure to check back in our Event Series archive for reviews of Miles Ahead, The Measure of a Man, a special screening of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and many more.
  • War of the Planet of the Apes has cast Woody Harrelson as the primary villain, which is much more exciting after you’ve seen Harrelson’s twisted turn in Out of the Furnace.
  • Oliver Stone’s Snowden has been pushed to 2016 because of a leak or something.

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True Detective (2014): A Man Without a Family

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. See below for our original reviews of True Detective.

“Past a certain age,” advises Marty Hart, “a man without a family can be a bad thing.” This is 2012 Hart, slightly overweight Hart, reelin’-in-the-years Hart. This is the Hart that’s about to recount the majority of the events of True Detective‘s first season, the 1995 Dora Lange case that the retired detective has long since considered closed. This is also the version of Martin Hart that no longer has a family — he’s cheated on his wife repeatedly, notably in 1995 and again in 2002, and so she and the kids have long since left. After seventeen years he’s still the same person, though, as it’s very Hart-like that he should describe himself with such accuracy without even meaning to do so.

Family is a major theme at the center of True Detective‘s rookie year, and Hart’s judgement begins to reveal why. He approaches his family with more or less the same mentality he applies to his job as State Police Detective: it’s duty. His is the American nuclear family, traditional in the way that would make social conservatives nod in approval, with working father, aproned mother, two daughters, a front lawn, a white picket fence. To Marty this is very much a patriarchal nuclear family, which casts him as father in the primary role of moral authority, social privilege, property control, etc. Though our perception of this slowly erodes over the course of the eight-episode season, Marty, years later in 2012, refuses to believe anything else to be the case.

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Apocalypse Now (1979)

Oftentimes our “reviews” here at Motion State aren’t reviews at all, really, but just tangentially-related trivia-night factoids stretched into meandering essays posing as criticism (see here, here, here, here, here, herehere, and here, among others). Think sitting down for dinner and accidentally filling up on appetizers — every now and then it just happens. This is that, essentially, except today we’re filling up on dessert.

During the grueling production of Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal Apocalypse Now, his wife Eleanor took copious notes and video footage with an eventual resolve to distill it all into a documentary about the making of the film. She never found the proper “angle” for a documentary feature, but Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now was eventually published in 1995. And the unedited, uncensored writings are probably a better peek into Apocalypse Now than a film would have been, because here there is no “angle” — there’s only the experience of being there as the film came together.

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True Detective 1.3 – “The Locked Room”

This review appeared shortly after the initial premiere of True Detective in early 2014 — slight edits have been made since the original posting.

Horror creeps ever closer in the third hour of True Detective, and Rust Cohle and Martin Hart may not be doing all they can to slow the arrival. After last week’s episode “Seeing Things” revealed more about both characters, the most recent entry in the eight-part season dug still deeper into the good and the bad inside the detectives portrayed by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson — but mostly the bad. Spoilers follow for the third episode “The Locked Room”.

Not long ago, if you told me the hunky McConaughey and the thick-jawed slacker Harrelson would be in a show together and the latter would be the one involved in a love triangle, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. In a distinct continuation of the character arc presented in the first two episodes, Harrelson’s Hart is far from the family man he pretends to be, and his treatment of the women in his life seems increasingly self-centered. Though he is drunk, the scene where he barges in on his younger lover (Alexandra Daddario) and beats the hell out of the kid she’s with still shows Hart’s penchant for quick violence in much the way Cohle’s sudden flare of brutality with the mechanic in last week’s episode showed a similar capacity. These are men with morals but they are also bad men, inescapably, calling to mind Marlon Brando’s musings as Kurtz near the end of Apocalypse Now, seeking “men who are moral, and at the same time…without feeling…without passion…without judgment…without judgment.”

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MASH (1970)

Among plenty of other achievements, MASH is (allegedly) the first major studio film to make use of the word “fuck”. While not necessarily a proven fact depending on your definition of “major studio”, the employment of the word is the perfect illustration of the important and innovative way MASH used dialogue. A large portion of Robert Altman’s filmography is made up of movies that are filled to the brim with sharp wit and fast banter, and MASH is arguably the finest example.

Donald Sutherland stars as Hawkeye Pierce, surgeon in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, prankster and goofball extraordinaire. Hawkeye, along with cohorts that include characters played by Tom Skerritt and Elliot Gould, is a lover of all things mischievous and manages to cause trouble even when he is blissfully unaware of doing so. This is war, of course, so people lose good friends and die themselves during the endless futilities of battle – in a Catch-22 sort of way, MASH uses its relentless humor as a way to illustrate this futility in highly satirical fashion, with Hawkeye and Co. essentially laughing in the face of meaningless death because what else can you do? In a Catch-22 sort of way, it works like a charm.

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Youth Without Youth (2007)

Imagine Christopher Nolan or Baz Luhrmann or Roland Emmerich or any other director unwilling to retreat from the staid comfort of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and imagine they break their mold for a moment and make a tiny, heartfelt, indie-feel flick with no explosions or battles or tidal waves. Good. Now imagine they do that a second time, and a third, and imagine they do it so many more times that that becomes their new thing, and a return to blockbusters would seem odd. Basically, that’s what Francis Ford Coppola did.

This is by no means a bad thing! Interesting, though, that the guy behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would eventually be making movies so subtle that you missed their release entirely. Youth Without Youth is one of those, or at least it was for me, despite an interesting premise and noticeable names beside the Starring and Directed By credits. The film came and went without much hubbub.

Tim Roth plays Dominic, an aging Romanian linguist who has spent his entire life pursuing the origin of all language and “the origin of human consciousness”, denoted at one point in the film as the all-enviable “inarticulate moment”. Despairing at the inevitable failure of his quest, Dominic means to commit suicide when he is suddenly struck by lightning. As his wounds heal Dominic finds that he has grown inexplicably younger, and as World War II dawns it seems Dominic has an opportunity to relive his life and complete his goal.

Sounds ambitious, no? But didn’t we just get through establishing this as a small, blip-like effort from an otherwise giant of Hollywood? Is it big or is it small? We must decide quickly.

We really mustn’t though, or we can’t, or couldn’t if we wanted to. Youth Without Youth is a highly strange movie, not one that entirely makes sense, not one that’s even entirely likable on first pass. It is, however, uniquely both a grand-scale global epic and an intimate and thought-provoking character study. On the one hand Youth Without Youth spans a century and captures much of the fear and frustration holding Europe hostage before and during and after the war; it’s been reported that Coppola filmed over 170 hours of footage for the film, ultimately distilled into a mere 2. For those absent mathematical inclinations, that’s 168 hours of film gone straight to the landfill. That’s massive.

On the other hand, the entire film really is just one guy. There are other characters, yes, but Tim Roth carries Youth Without Youth on his back. I wasn’t paying attention to whether he appeared in every single frame of the film, by my recollection is that he very nearly did. Regardless, through the frequent use of mirrors and actual walking talking doppelgängers, there are plenty of frames in which Tim Roth appears twice or three times. The film should more than satisfy any obsessive Tim Roth stalkers, at least until Coppola gets around to Youth Without Youth 2: The Other 168 Hours.

Thankfully Roth really is a great actor, and not one who gets as many starring roles as he should. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to describe his Dominic, and in the end he’s the only thing that makes Youth Without Youth work. You could easily write this film off as pretentious crap, but that kind of thing doesn’t really concern me. It’s interesting enough to watch Coppola craft something in this way on a decidedly smaller stage than anything he made in his Godfather heyday, and ruminations on “what it all meant” are like a bonus round. If a glimpse into a what a truly honest filmmaker looks like is what makes you sit down to Youth Without Youth, then I’d say that’s good enough for now. At least until Youth Without 2th.