Annihilation (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Natalie Portman is a biologist, and former soldier. Exactly one year ago, her husband, played by Oscar Isaac, went into a mysterious, mutated area called “the shimmer” and disappeared. Everyone thinks he’s dead, until, one day, out of nowhere, he shows up on Portman’s door, deeply ill. She learns from a psychologist, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, that he was part of a reconnaissance mission sent into “the shimmer” to find out just what it is, and that, to date, he is the only person to return. Upon hearing that there will be a new team sent into the area, Portman volunteers, for some reason, and she and the group venture forth into “the shimmer” where they encounter all kinds of crazy shit, including mutated plants, mutated crocodiles, and even mutated bears.

Annihilation is a film that, on paper, I should love. It’s a sci-fi movie, with an all-female cast, and some very interesting visuals. In practice, however, I found the film to be boring, pretentious, and surprisingly hollow. Then again, this film is written and directed by Alex Garland, the man behind Ex Machina, a movie that, if you’ve read my blog, you know I REALLY didn’t care for. Luckily, this picture doesn’t have nearly as much unintentional racism as that movie. It’s still not good, though, and a lot of it has to do with the way Garland helms the film. He directs all his actors to say every line in as slow and serious a manner as possible, and there’s barely a moment in this movie where anyone smiles, or acts like a human. This is especially true with Jennifer Jason-Leigh’s character, who, to the best of my recollection, never shows the slightest trace of emotion in anything she says. Granted, her character is supposed to be very repressed and mysterious, but there’s a way to convey those things in a manner that is interesting. As it is, she just comes off as dull and lifeless.  On top of that, the character’s make serious, life or death decisions in this movie that don’t really make sense. Portman, for instance, decides to go into “the shimmer” because, according to her, she owes her husband. Owes him what? A cure? A life? An answer? The film tries to explain this away by showing how she had an affair, but, the truth is, if she was really sad, and just wanted to kill herself, why go through all the headache of an expedition. Why not just take some sleeping pills? Oh wait, I know. Because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. And, finally, the characters just aren’t very interesting. You know next to nothing about them, and they are all so bland that none of them sticks out. Well, that’s not true. Gina Rodriguez stands out, because, in addition to having the funniest dialogue, she shows some actual emotion. I guess Garland couldn’t dampen her spirit. On top of that, she’s the only one who reacts like a normal person when all the crazy shit starts happening. She’s the one who says, “hey, maybe we should leave.” But everyone else just looks at her with their dead, monotone eyes, and says, “No, we have to stay. For science.” I’m not joking when I say that after Gina died, I lost all interest in the movie.

Guys, don’t go watch Annihilation. Yes, it has admirable qualities, like an all-female cast and some truly impressive visuals. And, yes, it is a bit smarter, or, at least, it thinks it is, than your average horror movie. But the characters are uninteresting, the acting, with the exception of Gina Rodriguez,  is wooden, and the pace is SLOW. You want my advice, treat yourself to something more exciting, like Black Panther, or funny, like Game Night. This flick ain’t worth your time.

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The Hateful Eight

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is the Name, And Views Are My Game.

Have you ever been to a murder mystery party before? In case you haven’t, it’s when you and your friends get together, and are given a scenario; “We are these people, at the so and so mansion, for this reason.” Each person is assigned a character, and then gets told that there’s a killer in their midst. You spend the rest of the game trying to figure out who said killer is, hopefully before he or she gets to you. It’s silly, but very fun, and gives people the chance to get creative and show off their improv chops. Plus, who doesn’t love hanging out with their friends?

Now, imagine that you’re at a murder mystery party, but things are a little different. You don’t know anyone there, and when you do get to know them, you realize that they’re all bigots, rapists, and murderers. There’s no fun involved with the discovery of the killer, only necessity and petty jealousy. On top of that, certain people keep repeating the same lines over and over again, and it’s really starting to grate on your nerves. If you can imagine what that party would be like, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with The Hateful Eight, the latest film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.

The story of two bounty hunters, Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russel, trying to bring a woman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, into hang, The Hateful Eight is a straightforward, contained thriller. 90% of the film takes place inside a single room, and, as with most Tarantino pictures, it synthesizes long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue with occasional outbursts of intense violence. Oh, and racial slurs. Lots and lots of racial slurs. I actually took the liberty of counting, and the n word is used 59 times in this movie. Yeah. 59 times. Look, I realize that Tarantino always uses that word in his films, and that his justification is that there was a lot of racism back in the 1800s, but, I’m sorry, there were other words in the English language back then. You don’t have to use it to such excess, Quentin. You’re not being edgy or provocative when you do so. You’re just coming off as an annoying little kid, screaming for attention.

But, I digress. Concerning the movie itself, I’m going to come right out and say that I didn’t like it. And before anyone says anything, it’s not because Tarantino directed it. I actually do like some of his films. I’ve seen Pulp Fiction many times, and I think Jackie Brown is enjoyable. However, ever since Kill Bill, his works have consistently managed to either enrage, or simply baffle me. And I think I can confidently say that The Hateful Eight is his worst film yet. For starters, certain things that you just expect to be good in a Quentin Tarantino movie, like the dialogue and the acting, aren’t good here. There are numerous scenes where characters will repeat themselves, like one where Kurt Russell says “You really only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang,” and another where Walton Goggins asks Samuel Jackson three times in a row, “You have a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” There’s absolutely no reason to repeat the same lines over and over again. It just gets annoying. We heard you the first time, Quentin. Move on. And as for the acting, Tim Roth gives an atrociously over-the-top performance in this movie. Every now and then, like in the scene where he says, “the n***er in the stable has a letter from Abraham Lincoln?” his voice will get super high and cartoonish sounding. And while I’m aware that he actually is British in real life, there are points in this film where he sounds more like Nicolas Cage doing a parody of a British person.

So, the acting and the dialogue aren’t much to write home about. But what about the filmmaking? The cinematography? The music? Well, when promoting this film, Tarantino kept bringing up the fact that he was using ultra-wide, 70 mm lens cameras, like the ones they used on Lawrence of Arabia. Problem is, those lenses are more or less wasted in this picture, because, as I said before, 90% of the movie takes place inside a tiny room. Lawrence Of Arabia took place outside, in a gorgeous, rugged landscape, where the huge lenses helped capture the full scope and beauty of the environment. The Hateful Eight takes place in a cramped, dimly lit room. There’s absolutely no reason to be using these big, and expensive, lenses if all you’re going to do is stay inside one location. It honestly just comes off to me as Quentin Tarantino wanting to stroke his own ego by saying “hey! I’m just as great a filmmaker as Cecil B DeMille or David Lean! My shitty little western is on par with The Ten Commandments and Lawrence Of Arabia.” And lest you think I exaggerate with that statement, Tarantino also had the movie be over three hours long, decided to include an overture, and an intermission. That stuff hasn’t been used in movies since the 1960s. If that isn’t self-indulgent, I don’t know what is.

But by far the biggest problem I had with this movie were the characters. It’s not that they weren’t well-rounded or fleshed out. It’s just that they were all such complete and utter assholes, that I really didn’t care if they lived or died. I know that Tarantino likes to write about morally ambiguous, or even downright evil people, but, usually, he tries to give them some redeeming qualities. Samuel L Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction becomes a kinder, less violent person by the end of the movie, and Bruce Willis’s character, as selfish and proud as he is, does go back to save Ving Rhames. None of the characters in The Hateful Eight have redeeming qualities. Kurt Russell is a misogynist who repeatedly hits Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who is a racist and a murderer. Samuel L Jackson is a rapist, and a murderer. Bruce Dern is a genocidal bigot and, well, you get the idea. No one is worth caring about in this movie, and that’s sad. Why have we become so determined to not write kind, decent, or generous characters anymore? Why do we hate seeing good people in our entertainment? Hell, even Superman, the quintessential boy scout, has gotten turned into an asshole in recent years. Why, I ask you? Why?

But, yeah, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t a big fan of The Hateful Eight. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Quentin Tarantino joint, just not done very well. It’s a 5 out of 10, in my opinion. If you’re a fan of his, whatever. You’ll probably love this anyway. But if you want good quality entertainment, avoid this picture.