Sunday, February 25, 2018

Film Review - Annihilation

A woman sits in a sanitized room with dozens of scientists in hazmat suites surrounding the space. She is being questioned by a man about what happened on her mission and the fate of the others that went out on the expedition. Here answers are vague and incomplete leading to frustrations of the questioner. The scene shifts to Lena (Natalie Portman) in class discussing cell division with her students. A cancer cell is on the screen splitting from one to two then four. Lena comments that everything starts with one cell and builds from there.

Director Alex Garland's Annihilation is a study change or reshaping. One thing evolving to become something different or splitting ints two to duplicate. Ground zero for the event is a lighthouse near the coast. Something hit it went through a wall and impacted into the ground beneath. The result is the shimmer extending outward from the lighthouse claiming more land each day reshaping every living thing as it progresses.

Alex Garland adapts Jeff VanderMeer first southern reach trilogy book for the screen. The narrative is heavy on flashbacks and short on explanation of the events that are occurring around the team of 5 women entering The Shimmer. Lena is the biologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) the psychologist, Jose (Tessa Thompson) Physicist, Gina Rodriguez's Anya paramedic and Cass (Tuva Novotny) the scientist. The visuals a mix of work of Cinematographer Rob Hardy, Special effects, visual effects and art departments are stunning and a strong reason to see this production on the big screen. Multi coloured   species of flowers grow on the same stem, flowerbeds take human form, seemingly incompatible animals crossbreed with all DNA including human become fluid.

Natalie Portman heads the cast as Lena the biologist. She is a 7-year army veteran now teaching at John Hopkins. He Husband Kane Garland muse Oscar Issac was on the prior mission into the Shimmer but came back sick and changed. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the lead psychologist at area X the staging ground just outside of the shimmer She puts the teams together that go in reckoning it was about time she joined one. She is singleminded and nonsense with a focus to keep moving to get to the lighthouse.  Tessa Thompson's Physicist Jose offers the best theory on what the shimmer is doing while Gina Rodriguez draws the short straw playing the most cliched character on these types of missions.

Annihilation is a visual marvel with a plot that is vague and open-ended that makes the viewer think. The pace is measured and intense with an opening post-mission debriefing scene that does not take away from what's to follow. Several scenes will say with the viewer long after the lend credits. It's an intellectual piece that may not strike a chord with the multiplex crowed but for the imagery and the injection of sound where many would expect dialogue it's definitely worth a watch.

*** Out of 4

Annihilation | Alex Garland | U.S.A. /U.K | 2018 |123 Minutes.

Tags: Cancer, Cell Division, Biology, Prism, Refraction, Meteor, Plants, Bear, Army, Physiology, Video Camera.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Film Review - Black Panther

Starting in Oakland in the early 90's, an animated historical recap followed by a London museum heist  Black Panther manages to get through the exposition elements right off the top of the proceedings. Things begin to pick up when the breakaway tribe appears at the coronation ceremony to challenge for the throne. The upward trajectory continues as the Wakandans get a tip on an old foe Klaue (Andy Serkirs) a South African arms dealer one of the few outsiders to have penetrated the cloaked Wakanda border. A team headed by new King T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) General Okoye (Danai Guria) deft spear wielding head of the all-female royal guards and Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) T'Challa's old flame turned embedded government operative. The trio head to South Korea to cut off Klaue's deal for the heisted London vibranium backed virtually by T'Challa's little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who with all of the wonderful tech provided by Wakanda's vibranium is Q on steroids.

Director Ryan Coogler who also has a co-writing credit with Joe Robert Cole tackles some major themes successfully in the film. The first being Wakanda's long-standing policy of secrecy and isolation. They have had alien technology for a generations thanks to a vibranium meteor strike but instead watched their African neighbours be colonialized, sold as slaves and suffer in great poverty. Their technical and medical knowledge if shared could cure many diseases, calm flash points between nations  but could bring scrutiny from the outside world.

Coogler muse Michael B Jordan blasts of the screen as Black Panther's foil Eric Killmonger Stevens. He first appears as a glasses wearing intellect at the London Museum, then we learn that he is deeply connected and affected by the opening events in Oakland. Killmonger turned to the military sporting marks on his body to represent each kill he has had over the years. Chadwik Boseman is even keeled as T'Challa / Black Panther. He battles his nature of being a kind and good person versus the hard choices he has to face as the new king. The lead male roles are flanked by a trio of very strong female performances by Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Guria, and Lelita Wright. Look for Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi the Chief guard of Wakanda's cloaked boarder and This is Us' Stirling K Brown who dominates the early 90's Oakland storyline.

Black Panther is a visually stunning marvel. The bright glow of the Wakanda technological achievements, tribal garments and sweeping lush landscapes jump off the screen. The filmmakers have crafted a project that is definitely in the reified air atop the marvel universe. A stellar cast does not set a foot wrong in this highly anticipated feature that I can fully recommend.

**** Out of 4

Black Panther | Ryan Coogler | USA | 2018 | 134 Minutes.

Tags: Marvel Universe, Meteor, Technology, Challenge, Isolation, Busan, United Nations, Oakland, Colonialism.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Netflicks Film Review - Cloverfield Paradox

Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is sitting in a car in traffic with her husband Michael ( Roger Davies) Earth is in an energy crisis with blackouts occurring on an increasingly regular basis. The plan: to fix the energy crisis using the Shepard Particle accelerator if successful would provide infinite energy for the earth. Hamilton is one of the scientists on the team that would test the device from space. As countries see their energy reserves lower the threat of armed conflict rises.

The scene shifts ahead to a space station orbiting earth with the future which Hamilton on the mission in space with the 6 other members of the crew. The initial time of the mission filled with particle accelerator failures runs through the opening credits with the linear narrative starting after the two-year mark. Team member Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl) in charge of firing the particle accelerator dominates the early action in the first moments in space. As the story begins the crew is at a raw nerve with Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) trying to keep the troops in one piece.

The Oren Uziel Doug Jung story is complexed yet hits the familiar beats of a crew in space. There are games, the light infused dining table, the talk of the risky nature of the mission from skeptics. The skeptic serves to deliver plot exposition too complicated for the crew to discuss in regular banter. The new elements are an effective role for a 3D printer and a wide knowledge of Mandarin that the crew flip freely between.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw leads the cast as Hamilton. She is the only character with a somewhat developed backstory with identified loved ones back on earth. The overly intense Daniel Bruhl's Schmidt explains the paradox as particles interacting with each other across two dimensions. Two distinct realities fighting to occupy the same space, creating chaos. Chris O'Dowd's Mundy plays wisecracking grunt Irishman the counter to Askel Hennie doom and gloom Russian crew member Volkov. Look for Elizabeth Debicki to turn up at a key interval in the proceedings to provide a timely boost to the storyline.

The traditional Cloverfield horror elements begin to appear at the end of the first act. The plot moves fast as the crew reacts to an unexpected result of a test. Netflicks decision to release the film directly after the Super Bowl instead of the rumored April date was a surprise that we hope will continue. However, this effort despite some intriguing elements does not quite do enough to be a film that I can recommend.

** 1/2  Out of 4.

Cloverfield Paradox | Julius Onah | U.S.A. | 102 Minutes | 2018

Tags; Energy Crisis, Space Station, Scientist, Particles, War, Dimensions, Gyroscope, Worms, Monsters, Demons.