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Annihilation

ANNIHILATION-POSTER-SMALL.jpg
A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
— imdb

Warning possible spoilers ahead *

Having been a fan of Alex Garland I eagerly anticipated the release of 'Annihilation'. From the trailer I was expecting a slightly colorful and intriguing intellectual 'Aliens' mashup. Although taking trailers at face value will usually guarantee disappointment and with this trailer, to a certain degree, that rationale applies here.

This is not to say that the movie is bad per se just more intellectual and slow moving than anticipated which isn't necessarily a bad thing either. But having said that I can see that there's a lot of plot holes in the movie some involving setup and others motivation.

From the outset we witness a character in turmoil, Lena, played by Natalie Portman - a very talented actress - who is missing her husband after he sets off on a top secret mission into 'the shimmer'. 12 months later he reappears, walking back into Lena's life, who has misplaced her grief putting everything into her job with very little of herself remaining to 'live'.

Kane, Lena's husband is a ghost of his former self, apparently traumatized from his ordeal in 'the shimmer'. This is when he rapidly becomes sick, coughing up blood and is rushed to hospital. En-route the ambulance is intercepted and Lena et al are taken to a top secret facility across from the shimmer. So far so good.

From here the plot begins to get a little bit sketchy for me. Here she meets Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who interrogates her about her husband and what he has told her about his experiences in the shimmer. Dr. Ventress appears to be the controller of this operation, a psychologist by trade, who informs Lena that they are about to embark on another operation into the shimmer despite all other operations failing including sending in drones. In other words they have all previously failed and people have died along the way.

What follows next doesn't really make much sense to me. This 'death' mission is headed by a rag tag group of women with varying occupations: biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist (The last occupation I gleaned from Imdb as I never heard it in the movie itself). They enter the shimmer, armed with weapons (Even though most of them are academics with no military training) and seemingly very little else to investigate the shimmer.

From this point I wondered why they never wore any sort of 'hasmat' type suits. They are going into an unknown area possibly of alien origin without any idea of what the air quality would be like. We were already informed no drone made it back through the shimmer and all communication ceases once inside.

They appear, as a group, not to be too concerned even when strange happenings appear around them. They are attacked at one point by a rabid crocodile, the next scene they suggest someone should 'stand guard'. Strangely this means the guard is stationed over 2oo meters away on the ground when everyone else is high and dry up on a look out platform (?!). This set up just appears to be there to create a false sense of tension and a set up for another attack.

The hybrid animals are interesting but the cinematography lets this down for me. It appears muddy with blown out highlights that are very distracting at times. Aesthetically I found the production design good for the most part up until the ending which we will get to later. 

Very little actual scientific detecting is done with in the shimmer. It appears whomever packed their backpacks decided to leave major equipment behind like night vision goggles and rubber gloves. At no point is there a concern for 'cross contamination'. With the stakes so high for humanity you would think they would have all the equipment necessary at their disposal. Which brings up another question who exactly is running this operation? It appears that Dr. Ventress is in charge, a psychologist who wouldn't know a mutated cell if one punched her in the face. With a big military presence we assume this operation is run by them. So strangely they are not accompanied by any army. It seemed like a setup to have an all female cast at the center of the story without any regard for 'story'.

Not that an all female cast makes a difference. It doesn't. They could have easily included a few female military personelle  and dropped one or two of the existing characters as they added very little to the movie at all. They just appeared there to make up the numbers and scream occasionally or bicker amongst themselves. The biggest disappointment for me is the characters. They are incredibly one dimensional. At times it appeared that the actresses were struggling to add 'life' to them. As portrayed Dr. Ventress appeared to be depressed half the time. It didn't help that they seemed to be given the direction to be stilted with their responses to each other.

When we do get to the finale we witness an area very much like 'Alien' with its chitinous living interior. Having spent so much time giving us colourful highlights to be subjected to an Alien hive felt like a misstep. Not that it looked bad, it didn't. It just felt like very lazy production design.

Some will be very disappointed by the ending and what happens after. To me it was at least interesting. I can't say that it was entirely successful, however. There seems to be a jump in logic where the final image will have you wondering why this should end in a cosy embrace. 

Overall there are some interesting ideas if you can get past the obvious flaws there may be some enjoyment. However, if you don't enjoy slow moving sci-fi movies you wont enjoy this either.

** & a half out of *****

Pray for Death movie review

After a peace loving Japanese immigrant and his family become victims of a crime syndicate, a master ninja emerges.
— imdb

Recently I've been on an 80s nostagia trip re-watching movies from the era. Some bad and some good and some just weird. Its funny how your memories can colour what you thought of a movie. When I was a kid I was fascinated by ninjitsu, the martial art. I think I watched every movie ever made involving ninjas - yes even that one where all the ninjas wore neon coloured camouflage outfits. So in my mind Pray for death was a good movie. But what did I know I was only a kid and excited because I was allowed watch something violent. Cut to thirty odd years later and the movie has lost a bit of its luster but still somewhat enjoyable if not silly.

Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi) emigrates with his wife and children to America after he was pushed back for a promotion in his job. Wanting to be in control of his own destiny he plans to open a Japanese restaurant to feed the masses and heal his tortured dark soul after the death of his brother.

Upon arriving in America he visits his new home to find that he has moved into a demilitarized zone full of crack heads, drunks and drug dealers - the ideal place for a restaurant, Obviously.

Shit hole central

Shit hole central

Unbetknownst to Akira, a bunch of crooked cops store stolen goods in the abandoned restaurant - and one rogue cop decides to steel a priceless necklace names the 'Van atta necklace' (Named after the producer of the movie Don Van Atta) and a syndicate comes calling to get their property back headed by their cheif thug and sociopath called Limehouse Willie (Great Character name) played with great intensity by James Booth who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Limehouse Willie

Limehouse Willie

Cue all manner of Torture inflicted on Akira's Family. Kidnapping of his son, Running his wife over with a Car - Still Akira refuses to fight fire with fire instead he buries it, pushing the dark shadow away until Limehouse Willie Rapes and Murders his wife while she is in the hospital bed recovering.

Its a pretty nasty little scene and I believe that it was cut or at least trimmed from the DVD release in the USA and UK when it first came out. In fact I believe there was at least 7 minutes of cuts from the original movie which showed blood letting from attacks which were missing also. This would have made a viewing experience quite maddening - the editing is quite choppy in points to begin with so having frames lifted from the end of shots would have made it worse.

preparing for battle

preparing for battle

Akira vows to make the perpetrators 'Pray for death' and he unleashes his dark shadow and becomes a ninja once again. I actually quite enjoyed the title song 'Back to the shadow' by Peggy Abernathy It's really catchy and the entire song plays over a montage of Akira making weapons. It's one of my favourite scenes in the movie.

Although not a traditional head piece of a Ninja, a more hollywoodised interpretation but still it is quite iconic looking and when Akira adorns it he is going to battle and bring all that has crossed him to justice in a bloody singular fight of skill versus modern weaponry set in a mansion.

There is fun to be had watching Akira take down the bad guys with Arrows and shurikens. Although the choreography plays a little stilted at times, its still enjoyable for the most part. During the melee Limehouse Willie escapes and the chase is on culminating in a final battle to the death in an abandoned factory full of Maniquins.

I found this to be quite unbelievable as a ninja is essentially a highly trained and skilled assassin they wouldn't be caught by surprise - considering Limehouse Willie looked old and a little ragged it didn't play entirely real for me. But then again this is only a movie and you have to take certain artistic licence and dispel your beliefs.    

The end is nigh

The end is nigh

When the finale does arrive it is a suitably fitting end to Limehouse Willie when he is skewered to piece of lumber sliding head first into a mill saw as he begs Akira to 'Kill him' repeatedly. But there is no salvation.

Pray for death isn't a very well made movie for the most part. It was a part of cannon films trilogy of Ninja movies - which incidentally never followed a continuous story line - from Golan and Globus so they were made on the cheap and rushed out the door for profit.

There's an interesting Documentary about Cannon Films called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films which is worth checking out as it gives you an interesting backstory to the creative forces behind some of these movies in the 80s and 90s. 

Whether 'Pray for death' is for you rests entirely on how far you can suspend your disbelief and if you expect everything to be perfect from the acting to the production on a movie - Sho Kosugi struggled with English and the more dramatic scenes so they tended to be flat and sometimes silly. But hey, you're not watching this type of movie for the thespian like acting. 

Enjoy!

 

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Leterboxd review of Mad Max: Fury Road

 

★★★★ Watched 16 May, 2015

A tour de force of action with some spectacular practical effects enhanced by some digital trickery at times.

I would say though that Tom Hardy plays second fiddle to Charlize Theron, in fact she often has more 'presence' on screen. For a mad max themed film I felt a little cheated. But this is a minor quibble, when the action kicks in full tilt you can't help but be drawn into it for the spectacle and the sheer mayhem on camera. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that its mostly all practical. There are moments of 'how exactly did they film that?' about it which only adds to the intrigue for me.

The plot itself is quite simplistic so if you are looking for deep characters and existential pondering then this film is most definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy a well shot action movie you should check it out. Setting aside the fact that there are some holes in the plot and questionable logic of characters there is still nihilistic fun to be had. Although it must be said that this film isn't quite as violent as the others in the series, even though it borrows heavily from The Road Warrior and Thunderdome. I did feel that the very first action set piece set inside a violent sand storm would have been a more thrilling conclusion to the movie as it was hard to up the ante in subsequent action scenes. In fact you could say that they fell a little short of hitting that high again.

Having seen it in 3D I can only assume that the movie would be even better in 2d. For me it suffered from horrible 'Double vision' on screen at times to a level that was very distracting and the only true 3d (Ie object coming out of screen rather than purely depth) seemingly on display was an explosion near the end of the movie where a steering wheel and other items fly into your face. I may be biased but I find 3D mostly a waste of viewing time and try to avoid it if I can as it darkens the picture quite a bit for me it's rather like watching tv at home wearing a pair of Ray Bans. Cool they may be but watching a movie through them doesn't aid with pleasure. And if the 3D is lost in the mix and suffering with the awful 'double vision' phenomenon then you have a recipe for disaster. Ok maybe not disaster but limited enjoyment. The only saving grace with this movie is the fact that practically all the scenes are brightly lit even the night scenes.

So a conclusion, if a conclusion where to be drawn from this, is avoid 3D and go with 2D. But having said that that's a personal preference and up to the individual viewer.

The film is well worth a view. Kick back relax and enjoy a colourful scorched palette and great action set pieces.

LETTERBOXD REVIEW OF NIGHTCRAWLER

LETTERBOXD REVIEW OF NIGHTCRAWLER

short review of Nightcrawler on letterboxd. Checkit out and like it if you like it.. or else ;-)