ANNIHILATION REVIEW

Different . . . But worth watching?

A biologist (Natalie Portman) signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.

An intriguing concept hammered by a meandering pace and a disappointing finale.

It was a little annoying knowing that the main story arc was being retold by Lena as it killed off the mystery that was to come. BUT the fractured time frame kept things engaging with the questions flying in thick and fast as the scenes flicked back and forth.

Portman delivered a sterling turn as the grief-stricken Lena. Struggling to move on from the loss of her partner Kane (Garland stalwart Oscar Isaac) who went MIA on his last expedition.

That was until he strolled into the house. Dishevelled, disoriented and unaware of the lost time.

The suspense set. My curiousity peaked. Alarm bells ringing. I was getting as confused and clueless as Kane.

The slow burning tempo complimented the first act as special ops intervened on Lena’s strange reunion. Whisking her away to a secret facility.

A religious event? Extra terrestrial activity? All we know is that they call it, “The Shimmer”.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s hard ass psychologist quickly established the premise for our heroine. A meteor crashed into a lighthouse unleashing an expanding rainbow coloured mass (No, this isn’t the plot for The Blob).

The cause of Kane’s absence.

The middle act was where I was rewarded. A creepy unsettling visual feast as Lena and a team of female scientists embark on a journey for answers.

No compasses, no co-ordinates, no concept of time. 3 days had passed and the team had no recollection other than passing through the dreaded bubble.

The animation and special effects were fantastic. Despite my grumblings with the pace, I was left on tenterhooks as the team delved deeper into ‘The Shimmer’.

Just as I felt my patience was waning, there would be a new development. Be it a disturbing video message left on a memory stick. Or a new demented cross-breed.

Tessa Thompson’s encounter with a mutated gator with shark-like teeth was a particular highlight.

There was an air of unease throughout as well as a couple of jumpy moments (That got yours truly).

I loved how Garland and co. kept their cards close to their chests. Did Kane and his team go insane or was it something more? Why is this mass even here? Is it sentient? (Word of the day)

I was a little disappointed at Isaac’s minuscule role. Merely emerging in flashbacks and video clips. I also expected a little more from Tessa Thompson’s character.

However, this did allow more screen time for Jennifer Jason Leigh and gave Gina Rodriguez the opportunity to deliver a stand out performance.

The all-female dynamic worked well. My main complaint was that the characters lacked depth. I liked the tension as Lena chose not to share the fact that Kane was her husband as the team found footage of his expedition.

And before I could moan too much about the lack of character development, the team unwittingly fell prey to another mutation. Nail biting, to say the least.

A bear that wails with the cries of its fallen? Seriously, that thing will stick with me for some time. And don’t even get me started on those creepy plant scarecrow things. Yikes.

Annihilation seemed to fall apart when the team did. The paranoia and backstabbing was only a matter of time and once each member was picked off in one way or another, it all got a little predictable.

The drawn out and ambiguous ending left things on a flat note. Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of 2014 and I knew the finale was never going to be that easy.

BUT despite all the theories and existential discussions, there was only one way Annihilation could go. That final shot should have had me talking BUT I saw it coming and it just didn’t deliver after all that promise.

Despite sharing echoes of Sphere with a hint of The Edge (Great films. Cannot recommend enough), I felt the hype and lumbering pace spoiled something that could have been so much more.

By all means, if you’re still curious, this is still an unsettling and well-acted sci-fi thriller worth a watch BUT it just whether that final act will leave breathless in awe . . . or disappointment.

3/5

*NEW* MORGAN REVIEW *NEW*

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Boreee-gan, more like.

Original, I know. A bit like this movie’s premise.

A corporate risk-management consultant (Kate Mara) must decide whether or not to terminate an artificially created humanoid being (Anya Taylor-Joy).

If Ridley Scott’s son wasn’t directing this, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this feature as a Late Night Premiere on the SyFy Channel.

Despite an eye grabbing opener with Morgan lashing out at her carer (Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight), the film was put on the back burner with a meandering pace and mindless exposition.

Kate Mara (House of Cards) will probably be the only one to come out of this unscathed. She might have featured in some duds (*Cough* Fantastic Four *Cough*) BUT I was impressed with her performance as Lee Weathers.

The extreme pixie haircut, cold demeanour and abrupt manner made her the most interesting character out of the bunch. I was more intrigued with her agenda than meeting the sulky Morgan.

I was surprised at the star studded supporting cast involved; Brian Cox, Narcos’ Boyd Holbrook, Toby Jones and Michelle Yeoh. A shame that none of them really made an impression.

Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) wasn’t too bad as the eccentric behaviour therapist and delivered a decent American accent. The only problem was that she wasn’t in it enough.

“Morgan’s not a she. She’s an it”.

I was happy to allow the pace to trundle along if the film went somewhere BUT for an hour, we had existential waffle, followed by more existential waffle and then . . . You get the idea.

The whole thing was a poor man’s Ex Machina. I’d seen it all before and done better. We had the same debates about defining humanity, action and consequence, cause and effect. Yawn.

I was NOT a fan of The Witch BUT thought Anya Taylor-Joy delivered a good turn. The same can be said with this. She did the best she could with the character BUT I was just wasn’t emotionally invested like I was with Alicia Vikander.

The corporate angle had potential as the scientists exchanged heated debates over artificial intelligence and profit BUT it never really took off.

“This is not Helsinki. Those were crude prototypes.”

What happened in Helsinki? All we had were endless references to an incident that was never expanded on or explored. This was the only loose thread I wanted to know about? Was there a failure? Did they go Westworld on them? What?!

The pace dragged and all the science-y stuff about Morgan didn’t do anything to help.

Within a month, she was a walking and talking biologically advanced toddler. Within a year, she could control and alter her environment (Why couldn’t we see any of that?). By the age of five, she was  . . . a sulky pale looking teenager in a hoodie. Riiiiggghhhttt.

The creepy Silence of the Lambs vibe was engaging enough as Weathers and Morgan had their intense stare-off and the game of cat and mouse began. The questions piling up. Is Morgan sentient? Is she aware of her abilities? If she can do all these things then why the hell is she sitting in a cell?

Taylor-Joy delivered a masterstroke with the expressions. She looked scary and sincere in the same instance and things (finally) picked up when Paul Giamatti’s Dr Shapiro arrived to perform a psych evaluation.

There was genuine suspense and tension as Shapiro bated Morgan. Questioning her motives and emotions. Goading her to react. A ticking time bomb. I could have watched a whole movie of just that.

The last 20 minutes seemed to realise it was clasping at straws and cranked the pace up to 11 with a frantic, violent and rushed finale.

The only problem was that with this sort of story line, there was only ever going to be two outcomes which made the end result pure predictable hokum.

Once you took away the tension and philosophical sparring, you had something very much like the protagonist; a cold pretty looking effort.

Mark Patten’s cinematography certainly made the idyllic setting surrounding The Facility like a country paradise BUT if Ex Machina hadn’t beaten Scott and co to the punch, this may have fared better.

BUT only ever so slightly.

Despite a talented cast and a mad dash finale, this was tragically flat and disappointing.

Watchable guff BUT nothing to shout home about.

2.5/5

*NEW* THE HATEFUL EIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Well, I didn’t hate it. QT is back and bigger than ever. But better?

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

From the beautifully shot opening, I was entranced. The 70mm film format capturing the picturesque cinematography of QT stalwart Robert Richardson perfectly. The credit sequence accompanied by an original Ennio Morricone score (The first in 30 years) brought back that old school nostalgia of the classic Westerns.

However that nostalgia soon dissipated when Russell’s John Ruth crossed paths with Samuel L Jackson’s Major Warren sitting on a cushion of dead bodies. After an initially tense and intriguing introduction with QT’s chapters popping up left, right and centre, the first hour soon churned along at an agonizing snail’s pace.

There wasn’t enough tidbits, stylish dialogue or suspense to keep me going. It was almost mind numbing. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. Russell, Leigh and Jackson were doing their best BUT it wasn’t entertaining enough. A running joke about Jackson receiving a letter from Lincoln did the job BUT I found the first act lacking. That was until they reached Minnie’s Haberdashery.

A grotty shack with even grittier lodgers. It really was a case of the waiting game. BUT was it going to be worth it? Trapped for the next few days during a blizzard, the tension bubbling. Each shady individual casually interrogated.

Russell and Jackson were superb. They had a real rapport and ran the show for me. Leigh was brilliant. A real rough looking menace with an acid tongue. It was great to see a good portion of the QT regulars popping up in this. What a supporting cast. However, some characters didn’t quite deliver as much as I had expected.

I have been a big fan of Walton Goggins for some time after some cracking turns in The Shield and Justified. QT finally gave him the platform he deserved as the gullible dim wit Sheriff Chris Mannix. He was perfect. His dumb theorizing and poor deducting skills delivered the laughs.

Tim Roth was great as the delightfully flamboyant Oswaldo Mobray. If anything, I wanted more of him in this.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Michael Madsen weren’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped. Once Jackson delved into Dern’s past a little more, things got going BUT Madsen was a highly unmemorable red herring. Mumbling and grimacing away to no avail this time.

I was more entertained by James Parks (Kill Bill) as the unlucky stage coach driver O.B. and Demian Birchir’s (The Heat) Senor Bob.

At first, it had my curiousity. BUT once Jackson’s Major began to suspect foul play and connect the dots, it finally got my attention. It was funny how convenient everyone’s back stories were. Ruth conveniently bumps into the town’s new sheriff and hangman at the same time that he’s bringing in a huge bounty? Hmm . . .

After that insufferable and completely unnecessary intermission*, the second act redeemed itself. A tense little nail biter with a few twists here, some grandiose Jackson monologues there, and all the demented mayhem you could expect from a QT flick. It was bloody, violent and ridiculous. Typical of the man and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You really couldn’t take your eyes off it. Lulled into a false sense of security. The finale was every bit as outrageous and brilliant as I could hope for.

I was ashamed to doubt QT. It was always going to be tough to top Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction BUT this certainly wasn’t QT’s weakest effort. That honour goes to Jackie Brown or Death Proof.

Overlong and a little patchy in parts BUT once it going, it was everything you could want from a Tarantino penned Western.

3.5/5

*The intermission was a joke. I don’t know whether in the States QT did something special in those 15 minutes BUT over here, it did nothing. Probably didn’t help that the cinema had already closed the food and drink stand. Logic? None, apparently.