One of the best signs that you have just seen a worthwhile movie is you want to see it again. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure whether you liked it or disliked it because bad movies almost never illicit yearning for a second viewing. Well, unless you are into ironic viewings of garbage like Evil Dead 2 or Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which case, you keep doing you. Annihilation is definitely worthwhile and I think I liked it, but I am not sure. Somewhere around the midpoint of the film, one of the characters explains what was happening to them and everything around them and my brain went “I am not so sure you have figured it out.” For the rest of the film, I tried to make sense out of the explanation and I may have smelled charred bacon at one point. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Think about it, but not too hard.
(SPOILER ALERT, but since this movie is based on a trilogy of books, I’m only mildly apologetic.)
After a year missing, special forces soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows up at his home, scaring the crap out of his wife Lena (Natalie Portman). Kane remembers nothing about the past year, then quickly becomes violently ill. En route to the hospital, men in black grab Kane and Lena and take them to a secret facility called the Southern Reach. There, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) questions Lena, then recruits Lena to accompany her and three others, Anya, Josie, and Cass (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny, respectively), into the Shimmer, a region of swamp land that appears to be covered in a giant soap bubble. Ventress reveals to Lena that Kane is the only person to return from the Shimmer and suggests that an answer to why Kane is dying lies at a lighthouse inside the Shimmer where the Shimmer started (from a meteor strike). Ventress also makes it clear that their main mission is to get to the lighthouse to find a way to stop the Shimmer from spreading (which it has been doing for three years) and eventually enveloping the Earth.
Once in the Shimmer, the group experiences odd happenings (forgetfulness, rashes, paranoia, among others), as well as taking in sights straight out of Wonderland. There are crazy flowers and plant life, mutated animals that suddenly split into copies (think cell division), and a couple of large predators that will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep after watching the film. One beast in particular is terrifying, especially when it is fully on display in one scene (you’ll know the one).
That is not the nightmare beast.
Everything I have described so far is why you should see this movie, especially because this film asks you to think a lot. It is similar to Arrival in that things are not exploding every five minutes and you have to pay attention to what is happening lest you miss a detail. Cerebral science fiction flicks are my favorite kind of movies. The problem with this film is that it asks you to think a lot and it isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. For example, all five women have a specific vocation – psychologist (Ventress), biologist/former soldier (Lena), physicist (Josie), geologist/surveyor (Cass), and paramedic (Anya) – but those skills are used to the barest minimum, almost always simply to lend a modicum of credence to whatever exposition is being recited. Most of the time, they are just walking. At another point, the physicist tries to explain her theory that the Shimmer refracts everything, including DNA and that is why everything is mutating. This is also the point I mentioned earlier regarding my brain. It has been two decades since I studied physics, but I still remember how refraction works and that isn’t it.
That word does not mean what you think it means.
Luckily, the refraction explanation is minor enough that one can accept it and move on, but then, unluckily, you notice how thin Josie and Anya are as characters. Like every survival movie (which is what this movie really is), there are always characters who you shrug at when they die or almost die and Josie and Anya are those characters. We know their jobs and a nugget of their back story (thanks to Cass) and that’s about it. To be fair, Anya’s demise will evoke a response from you, but that’s because of the scene itself, not because you are invested in her character. Aside from Lena, the only other character who was interesting was Cass and I was sorely disappointed when she bought it so early in the film.
Having said all that, it is very possible I missed a bunch of nuance and subtlety due to thinking about refracting DNA and gaping at the gorgeous visuals in the film. Despite its flaws, the film is very engaging and there are some genuinely tense scenes that have you holding your breath along with the characters. I really do want to watch this movie again and, thanks to Netflix, I can do that from my couch in three weeks (much to the chagrine of director Alex Garland). Hopefully, a second viewing will calm my brain.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back and see if that scary-ass beast doesn’t haunt your dreams tonight.
Have you ever wanted to participate in one of those murder mystery nights with a group of people? Yeah, me neither. I tried it one time years ago and it was one of the most awkward memories I have. In order for it to be even remotely fun, everyone involved has to be 100% into it and also be an extrovert and that does not describe my experience. Otherwise, it’s like to trying to conduct a bible study with people who believe everything in the bible is literal and agnostic biblical historians who bet on the Patriots to beat the Eagles. Now that murder mystery nights are not a thing any more, Game Night introduces a gaming concept sure to be the next big thing after we’ve exhausted every Escape Room in the city – hiring a company to conduct a kidnapping of the game night host and offering a prize to whomever tracks down the host first. This is a bulletproof idea that definitely does not have the potential to involve law enforcement.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are an ultra-competitive married couple who live for hosting game night. They invite the usual crew, married couple Kevin and Michelle (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury, respectively), and their friend Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his flavor-of-the-week/date, Sarah (Sharon Horgan). Everything is going swell until Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), returns to town and shows up Max at the latest game night. At the end of the night, Max offers to host the next game night, promising to up the ante, as it were. Thus we learn about Brooks contracting the kidnapping game and offering up his corvette as the prize. The game starts out as planned, but is interrupted by two men breaking into Brooks’ house, fighting with Brooks for a couple minutes, and dragging him off while the three couples look on. They erroneously believe the break-in is all part of the game and the movie kicks into its main plot – the couples start playing the game, but eventually learn the men who kidnapped Brooks were not part of Brooks’ game.
What could possibly go wrong?
You probably noticed I did not give a spoiler warning and that is because I want you to enjoy this movie as much as I did when you go see it (and you should definitely go see it). The film is one part mystery and one part adventure, all drizzled in comedy sauce. If I were to tell you any more about the plot, it would spoil much of what I found so entertaining in the movie, namely that I could not guess what was going to happen and being shocked on numerous occasions at what did happen. This is the kind of movie that makes sitting through crap like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword worth it.
What I can tell you about is how much I enjoyed the characters, especially McAdams and Jesse Plemons. Plemons plays police officer (and next-door neighbor of Max and Annie) Gary Kingsbury. Gary is super creepy and stopped getting invited to game night after his wife divorced him. Plemons’ delivery is so awkward and unsettling that he would fit right in as host of a murder mystery game night, except you would believe Gary is an actual murderer. One scene in particular (when the couples go to his house for help) punctuates how likely it is that Gary is secretly keeping a woman in a well in his basement. Make sure to listen to the music playing in the background and look at the things decorating his house.
Do you guys have any lotion? I ran out.
But, McAdams is the one who carries this film to its comedic heights. If she has played a true comedic role (in contrast to the kind of role she did for Wedding Crashers or Mean Girls), I’ve missed them and that makes me sad. McAdams is brilliant as Annie, manages to out-funny Jason Bateman (no small feat), and nearly had me in tears a couple of times. Like with Chris Hemsworth in the latest Thor, McAdams shows how funny she can be given the chance. I will definitely be checking out some of her past comedies to see if I missed out (not to mention how, like Hemsworth, easy she is on the eyes).
Did we win?
The best part of this movie though? Somebody hired a continuity person/crew that didn’t take a night off. With the exception of one small subplot, everything introduced in this film is wrapped up when the credits roll. Each couple and person is given a sub plot/issue to work through and all of them are given a chance to breathe and play out throughout the film. The best movies have this figured out, fleshing out their characters while moving the plot along without having to crush the momentum of the film to do it. There are also great technical continuities on display, one of which is a continuous long take of a scene featuring our couples trying to evade capture inside a mansion (another of which didn’t occur to me until all of the reveals and explained what I initially took to be a standard action movie cliche). Add it all up and Game Night is a movie where everyone ends up a winner. Now, who is up for another Escape Room?
Rating: Do not ask for any money back and remember at the next game night, it’s just a game.
Bruce is back. You and a guest are invited to an advance screening of his new film DEATH WISH! Follow this link: http://www.gofobo.com/ddpIW07163 for your chance to download an admit-two pass to see the film on Wednesday, February 28 in Denver! Seating in the theatre is first-come, first-serve and is not guaranteed. Please arrive early! DEATH WISH opens everywhere March 2.
Release: March 2, 2018
Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue, Mike Epps, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise and Camilla Morrone
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures presents director Eli Roth’s reimagining of the 1974 revenge thriller Death Wish. Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is a surgeon who only sees the aftermath of his city’s violence as it’s rushed into his ER – until his wife (Elisabeth Shue) and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are viciously attacked in their suburban home. With the police overloaded with crimes, Paul, burning for revenge, hunts for his family’s assailants to deliver justice. As the anonymous slayings of criminals grabs the media’s attention, the city wonders if this deadly avenger is a guardian angel…or a grim reaper. Fury and fate collide in the intense action-thriller Death Wish. MGM will release Death Wish nationwide on March 2, 2018.
Of all the animated films I’ve taken my son to see, Early Man is easily the weakest. Of course, that doesn’t matter to my five-year old, so the only thing I will say about this film is if it inspires my son to want to play soccer (which the very idea of watching makes me break out in hives) I will write my own review of this film. For now, here are some things my son had to say about Early Man.
What was Early Man about?
Cavemen. And villagers. Playing soccer-ball foot-ball.
Is it soccer or football?
Are you afraid that Europeans might get mad at you?
People from England! You think they’re okay with you calling it soccer?
Who was your favorite character?
The caveman’s pig.
One of them is the MVP.
Did he play soccer also?
Yeah. On his team!
Where on the field was he?
Um, on the side…?
Was he the goalie? Stopping the ball from going into the goal?
Why were they playing a soccer game?
Because they do.
Hog-nob keeping the ball from getting into the goal.
Remember, they were trying to save their home. Do you think it was cheating that a pig was playing goalie?
It’s not cheating. Because pigs think it’s hard to do it, and hard is kind of fun.
Do you think you’re a better artist than the cavemen who drew on the cave walls.
We quit playing for a reason.
Because I’m the goodest drawer in this house.
What would you draw if you were drawing with them?
Like a football. An actual football. An oval football.
What were they hunting?
Do you think they hunted the duck, or was the duck too scary?
That caveman saw that giant duck, and he was hungry. He was going to eat the giant duck.
Did he eat it?
Because he ran away because he’s gigantic.
Tell me about the bad guy.
He was the king.
He’s all about the brass.
Was he a fun bad guy?
He looked angry.
What did he want?
He wanted….i don’t know. But the mouse ate all the coins.
The mouse that goes like this [arms in the air] side to side. He heard a noise and he looked around and the mouse was eating the coins!
Do you think it’s okay that Lord Nooth didn’t want girls to play soccer, or was that mean?
It was kind of mean.
Do you think it was weird there were no trees outside of the valley?
What happened to all the trees?
A giant duck. Maybe the duck stepped on all the trees. [looks disinterested] ….ask me the question what’s your favorite part?
Okay, what’s your favorite part of the movie?
When the duck pooped on the king.
Soccer does seem easier than hunting that guy.
What part did you not like?
Nothing? You liked the whole thing?
If you could change one thing, what would it be?
Change the ball to an actual football.
Would you tell other kids to see the move?
Mmhmm. Because they might like it. Like me.
How much money do you think people should pay to see the movie?
Like five. Because it might be easier, cuz they want to see the movie SO BAD!
Rating: He called it – ask for half your money back. It’s what I would have said.
For the first 114 minutes of its 134-minute running time, Black Panther is a really good movie. Those 114 minutes are exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Studios movie – fun, witty, and visually excellent, with memorable characters you cannot wait to see more of in future movies. It even manages to tackle a couple of social issues without stepping on itself. So, what the hell was the last twenty minutes all about? It was like watching Hamilton, but getting hit in the face with a pie during the final act. Since the rest of the movie is good, you’ll forgive the pie, but not cool bro.
(SPOILERS – I am going to describe that pie.)
There is a lot to like in this movie, so that is where I am going to spend most of this review. The film begins with a quick back story of the fictional African country of Wakanda – a country filled with vibranium and magic herbs delivered by a meteor strike centuries ago. Using those two things, the Wakandans developed super-advanced technology, including imbuing their ruler with super powers (making that person the Black Panther), flying in anti-gravity, UFO-like aircraft, and healing all manner of disease and injury. It also begs the question “where were these jerks when aliens invaded the planet in The Avengers?” I’m guessing the Avengers would have appreciated the help, considering Wakandan technology makes Tony Stark’s tech look like he’s playing with Duplos.
That would have been helpful against the Chitauri. Or Ultron.
Incidentally, this refusal to help others or share their technology is the driving conflict between the main characters of the film. King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and wiseman/priest Zuri (Forest Whitaker) want to keep Wakanda’s secrets hidden from the world (like their civilization has always done), while special operative/former lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), and the exiled Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) want to reveal the hidden secret of Wakanda to the world and help people. Like in Captain America: Civil War, both sides make really arguments, so it is tough to decide which side to root for. I mean, you’ll root for T’Challa because he’s the Black Panther, but you’ll question him while you’re doing it.
For most of the film, it feels like we’re watching a James Bond flick. T’Challa and a couple of warriors, Nakia and Okoye (Danai Gurira), embark on missions to stop people from smuggling vibranium out of the country. They are repeatedly seen inside a command area and they even have a gadget maker in T’Challa’s 16-year old sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). When they learn of a museum heist involving an artifact that was actually vibranium, they determine the perpetrator is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). I know – I thought Klaue was dead too and this confused me for a while. Also, I think Serkis was ecstatic to play a character that didn’t involve motion-capture because he was visibly having as much fun in his role as Cate Blanchett had in Thor: Ragnarok. Anyway, they hatch a plan to catch Klaue by undercover to a casino where Klaue plans to sell the artifact to a CIA agent, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). And, just in case you don’t think I’ve sold the case of this film being James Bond: Marvel Edition, they stage a car chase scene with a high-tech luxury car. The only thing missing was British accents.
I made these.
While I was really into the spy-esque thriller feel of the film, I also couldn’t help marveling at a couple of the characters and the performances being delivered. As good as Boseman is in the title role, the sneaky good performances come from Serkis, Wright, and most especially, Gurira. Wright attacks her part with an earnestness that endears her to the audience immediately. Serkis revels in a villain role where we can actually see his face and invokes glimpses of Joker-level crazy/genius. But Gurira steals nearly every scene she is in, combining her tough-as-nails Walking Dead persona (Michonne) with a patient and wise advisor to create a character every bit as powerful and charismatic as Black Panther. Watching her admonish T’Challa as if he were nothing more than her pupil made me wonder who was the real leader of Wakanda.
So there I was, minding my own business and enjoying a really good movie when, out of nowhere, Klaue is unceremoniously replaced as the villain by Killmonger. Aside from the fact that Killmonger is a terrible villain name, his character is woefully underdeveloped. In fact, Killmonger is such a thin character that agent Ross (who is also laughably underdeveloped) is forced to monologue Killmonger’s backstory for the Wakandan leaders, as well as the audience. Turns out, Killmonger wants revenge for his father’s death and I lost interest in anything he did or said after that. Apparently, the writers also recognized this so, after about a five-minute digression where the movie becomes The Lion King, they wrote in a Lord of the Rings-style, epic, battle royale where Wakandans fight other Wakandans for no reason while dodging armored rhinos. *SPLAT!!*
Can you see me now?
What’s so frustrating about this climax is that the movie goes to great lengths to detail Wakandan culture and tradition, featuring the succession ceremonies and fierce loyalty, then tosses it out the window because rmored rhinos dammit! Plus, half of the Wakandan warriors decide to fight T’Challa after discovering he is still alive, meaning Killmonger isn’t technically isn’t their king (after besting T’Challa earlier). Even if you enjoy such battles in your movies, the tonal shift in the film to get there was so jarring it felt like it came from a whole different movie. It was like watching a baseball manager bring in his worst relief pitcher when the starter was throwing a shutout.
Despite the uninspiring climax and dull (second) villain, the rest of the movie was so strong that I would still rank it in the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Panther being the eighteenth film in the franchise). I’m very interested to see where they go from here with Wakanda, their technology, and Tony Stark realizing he isn’t the smartest person on the planet. I can’t wait to see how Okoye plays into the larger picture and no actor is more satisfying to watch than Boseman as Black Panther. In other words, Black Panther is well worth watching and a great final lead-in to Avengers: Infinity War. Mmmm…pie?
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless that pie ruined your shirt.