Category Archives: Horror

“Aliens” Movie Review

Last time, we had to deal with the “perfect organism,” and now we must contend with an army of predatory bugs. And to be perfectly honest, it’s hard to tell which one would be the better one to face. This sci-fi action horror film was released in mid-July of 1986, grossing over $183 million worldwide. Despite the hype and acclaim of the original 7 years earlier, the film managed to garner some of the best reviews of the 1980’s, including 7 Academy Award nominations. With Ridley Scott out of the picture, the producers approached Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron to write and direct the sequel, having been impressed with The Terminator. Initially, it seemed as though 20th Century Fox was going to butcher it due to the proposed exclusion of Sigourney Weaver’s character. But Cameron pushed onward, and despite having a troubled shoot that caused most of the crew members to walk out, he managed to deliver the final product on time to Fox. Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, the flight officer who awakes from stasis 57 years after the events of the original film. Doubtful of her alleged experiences on the Nostromo, the dominant Weyland-Yutani Corporation orders her back to the exomoon LV-426, which is now becoming a terraforming colony. With a company representative and a unit of space marines, they are tasked with investigating a disturbance on the colony, which turns out to have been overrun by a horde of Xenomorphs, the creatures from the last movie. Now Ripley, the marines, and a surviving girl named Newt must fight the extraterrestrials and find a way off of the planet. Rule of thumb in cinema: Doubting either James Cameron or Steven Spielberg makes you look stupid, no matter how off-putting or unappealing the product may seem in marketing. Doesn’t really matter how cold or distant you may be from any of their films, but the fact that they can defy expectations among film lovers time and again is worth their career reputations alone. In this case, Cameron had the heavy duty of following up on Ridley Scott’s original classic, which is nearly perfect in many aspects. Why bother making a sequel to Alien when the first one is amazing as it is? And yet, as has been proven with most of his career, the director proved everyone wrong and made a movie that was just as fantastic and exciting as the original. In fact, I love it even more than the first one. In cinema, there are really only a handful of sequels or prequels or spinoffs that can prove to be at least half as great as the first go-round. There are less in existence that can actually fully live up to the standards of that first installment and even less that manage to ever surpass or improve upon it. Depending on who you ask, Aliens is either just as good as the original film, falls short of it, or is simply better in almost every way. Consider me to be in the camp of the latter. Granted, it’s hard to compare the two since they have very different tones and styles. While Alien was firmly a horror picture, this one leans more heavily into action territory. That’s not to say that it’s totally devoid of the darkness; the idea of soldiers blindly going to battle in an unfamiliar terrain is a melancholy reminder of the Vietnam War. In the midst of this war, Sigourney Weaver still comes through as the heart and soul of the series. Now more world-weary and intelligent than she was before, she is by far the only one in the crew who understands the true threat of the Xenomorphs and is especially distrusting of androids. Weaver also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, a landmark moment in science-fiction films gaining serious recognition in the industry. Also great are Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop and the late Bill Paxton as Private Hudson. They honestly might be my favorite characters in the whole series and provide an interesting Star Trek-like dichotomy to the situation. One is logical and thinks of all the best options, the other is highly emotional and fueled by testosterone. And then there’s actress-turned teacher Carrie Henn as Newt, the sole human survivor from the colony. Despite her small stature, there’s a courage and wisdom found in her that just resonates deeply. And from a technical standpoint, like its predecessor, Aliens is superbly crafted and handsomely produced. In his first credited work as a cinematographer, the late Adrian Biddle helps create a sustained atmosphere on LV-426, whether out in the open or inside the colony corridors. We get a lot of shots tracking the soldiers down dark passages, without a whole lot of cuts between angles. Combined with the expert backlighting and production design, this only further increased the amount of dread felt while still keeping things fun and exciting. Meanwhile, the editing by Ray Lovejoy, most famous for 2001: A Space Odyssey, is very deliberate yet enthralling. He knows exactly when to turn away from the bug army to keep a fear running through and also when to show us their brute numbers. The action scenes are particularly well-crafted, combining all of the aforementioned techniques with slick writing and strong direction. The musical score is written and conducted by the late, great James Horner, who would go on to collaborate with Cameron on two more films. (Titanic and Avatar) The score appropriately employs military-style drum beats on the snare, which drive the action tone pretty hard. Other bits of percussion includes a metallic slap that punctuates the urgency along with highly dynamic strings and horns that feel perfectly married together. Fragmented crescendos and truncated sections make the scenes it is used to feel all the more engrossing. Interestingly, the composer had such a hard time during production that he was convinced he would never work with the director again. Considering Horner only had 6 weeks to put the whole soundtrack together, it is highly impressive and certainly one of the more memorable ones for a sci-fi action movie. Practically nothing beats this movie nowadays. Sure, there are a couple issues with pacing, mostly with the intense final act. But when measured against nearly all other films of its genre that have come out since then, it really does stand head-and-shoulders above the normal fare. Aliens is a highly satisfying and enthralling example of masterful genre-blending. James Cameron is a cinematic genius and I’m thoroughly convinced that not everyone will be able to realize that until long after he’s gone. He’s made not one but TWO of the best sequels ever made in the span of 5 years. There’s plenty to enjoy here on multiple repeat viewings and I can’t wait for more to experience and appreciate it the same way that I did.

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“Alien” Movie Review

Whoever said that you should only be allowed to watch “scary movies” in October? This film (and its sequel) are perfectly enjoyable to watch around the summer time. After all, what could possibly be more worthy of the summer movie season than small aliens bursting violently out of the chest? The inaugural picture of this sci-fi horror franchise was released in the United States on May 25th, 1979, coming to the U.K. 3 months later. Although critics were slow to acknowledge its brilliance, the film made back over 10 times its $9 million budget worldwide. Over the years, it has spawned a franchise consisting of 7 more movies, in-depth novels, crossover comics, and numerous video games, some better than others. Directed by Ridley Scott, his second full-length feature, the screenplay was conceived by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed production of Dune. Many, many drafts later, and with the help of producer Walter Hill, the gears actually started turning. It was only after the monumental success of Star Wars that 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the science-fiction film, a dangerous genre in those days. Set in the early 22nd century, the story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship transporting 20 million tons of ore back to Earth. Under assignment from the intergalactic company Weyland-Yutani, they land on a planetoid called LV-426. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious and highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature sneaks onto their ship as they make the return journey. As the creature stalks and takes out members of the crew one by one, the survivors, led by warrant officer Ellen Ripley, must find a way to beat what is seemingly the perfect organism. Let’s make something abundantly clear here before going on: Alien is a horror film. You can be snobby about it and put it away in any other Blockbuster aisle that you want, but at its bleak core, Ridley Scott has made a horror movie through and through. This is one of many things that distinguish it from its sequel (Which you’ll absolutely see a review of later this month) and very little beats watching it in the middle of the night all on your own. It took a little bit for me to fully appreciate it, though. On my first watch, I felt a bit cold from the overwhelming atmosphere that seemingly clouded the emotional involvement. But now, having rewatched it as part of my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally seen its brilliance. Something that really struck me on this rewatch was the deliberate pacing the director moves the film along at. With an opening scene that slowly establishes the setup with just the slightest amount of on-screen exposition, we learn everything needed to be known about the mission. Scott is wise not to rush to the survival horror aspects of the film, instead carefully building up the world and motivations for the characters. Interestingly, the creature itself doesn’t really show up or take full form until at least halfway or maybe even two-thirds of the way through the movie. But much like Jurassic Park 14 years later, it does a really great job at sucking viewers in and engrossing them in a place where no one can hear you scream. One reason to get so invested is thanks to the capable ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver’s storied career was launched thanks to this franchise and for good reason. One of the most powerful female characters ever written for the big screen, watching her pretty much act as the only one aboard who is following orders is enticing, even if we don’t know much about her backstory. Interestingly, she isn’t even made the main character until around the time the creature finally shows up. We really get to know and get attached to her crew members before then. Tom Skerritt as the cowby-esque captain, Veronica Cartwright as a particularly emotional engineer, the late Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt as minor but vital members of the crew, Yaphet Kotto as a muscleman, and Ian Holm as corporate overseer Ash. While Ash arguably gets more screentime than anyone else, (And for good reason) you can’t help but care about everyone onboard and fear for their lives. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, it’s hard not to see the impact this film had on the sci-fi genre in the years to come. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint wisely chooses to expose shadows and dark corridors for our heroes to go down, tracking their every move with steady shots. The slow move-ins and unexpected pans or tilts only increase the amount of dread that each frame is filled with. It is combined with the editing work of Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther that adds up the intensity. Comprised almost like a wound-up guitar string, the movements and cuts work perfectly together to build up the dread and terror. A fine decision, as anything with a whip-fast pacing, could have put the story in danger of no longer being scary. But the big star here is the late, great art designer H.R. Giger. He brings his signature style of ghastly, gothic, and darkly sexual work and design to the eponymous creature as well as many other environments. Never before had a planetoid surface or a derelict spaceship looked so terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. There’s also something just immediately disturbing just by looking at the alien and thinking of all of the things it could do to someone. The famous chestbursting scene is one of the most unsettling momenbts in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to Giger’s practical handiwork. And the best part? None of the cast members were told what was going to happen when it was filmed; their reactions on-screen are real. Nearly 40 years onwards, and Ridley Scott’s breakthrough feature hasn’t lost an ounce of its horrifying touch. Not only did it set a standard for his own career buit also for sci-fi and horror in general. Alien is a frightening, suspense-filled classic of atmospheric terror. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this has inspired an entire generation of film lovers and filmmakers and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a very warm feeling in your chest as you watch it, but it’s not becuase some monster is about to burst out. It’s because you’ll be so petrified by what’s happening that no one will be able to hear you scream.

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“A Quiet Place” Movie Review

Watching this movie in a packed theater at the Alamo Drafthouse was a truly surreal experience. Seriously, even with their strict etiquette of behavior, that auditorium was ridiculously silent. That added to the experience. This near-silent horror thriller premiered as the opening night picture at the 2018 South By Southwest Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and rave reviews. Internationally released on April 6th, 2018, the film had a huge opening at the box office, raking in over $71 million against a $17 million budget. Directed by John Krasinski, the spec script by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods was inspired by various silent films they watched in college and was tossed around Hollywood for a number of years. According to the two of them, many studios were scared by the prospect of something so different and unique. When producer Michael Bay got a hold of it, the project finally got traction at Paramount, thus giving these Iowa boys their dream some life. The story is set in an unspecified future where society as we know it has broken down following a mysterious invasion. Krasinski also stars opposite his real-life wife Emily Blunt as two parents trying to keep their children alive in an extremely survivalist manner. They are constantly living in complete silence in order to avoid a set of violent creatures that are hypersensitive to sound. And for the next 95 minutes, we watch them deal with this peril as the monsters slowly start creeping in on their secluded farm home. If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t really have much initial interest in this film. Jim from The Office directing a straight-up horror flick? Seemed doomed from the start, but I became more enticed upon hearing the driving concept. It’s always nice to see filmmakers, and especially major studios these days, trying something new that we haven’t seen before. I had just barely missed its premiere here in my hometown but was encouraged by the positive response coming out the gate. Thankfully, A Quiet Place is exactly what I had been hoping for. Better yet, Krasinski is able to fully flesh out Beck and Woods’ screenplay to the max with uncommon originality and pulp. With a couple of exceptions, it’s pretty clear that everyone on board knew exactly how to “Show, don’t tell” the story and build the world. Although there is some dialogue present, the characters mostly interact through American Sign Language. Everything feels so lived-in and confident and thought-out that it resonates directly with the audience. It may be only his third feature, and his first one for a major studio, but he shows a considerable grasp on the plot and structure throughout most of the runtime. It’s lean and mean, gets right to the point, and doesn’t waste any time with narration or on-screen text. The man is also really good in the lead role as the survivalist father. He is willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths to keep his family safe, but never loses sight of his humanity with some moments of genuine heart-to-heart. Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds play his son and daughter, respectively. While both offer up great performances in their roles, Simmonds steals the spotlight frequently for her strength and determination. Not to mention the fact that she’s actually deaf in real life, which adds another layer of realism to this world. Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is fantastic as the mother of the family, who’s never content to just lay low at home. This may be a horror film released in late Spring, but her work here is honestly Oscar-worthy, especially a scene where she has to climb into a bathtub. Late in the picture, defeated and tired, she softly inquires, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, Krasinski & Co. have put together a handsomely-produced film. Charlotte Bruus Christensen uses the widescreen format to her full advantage with numerously well-planned shots. Virtually everything seen in a frame can be used to help advance the story (Occasionally to a silly degree) and almost nothing is handheld. The practical sets, such as the cornfield littered with noise-reducing grain, are all caught on camera and make it feel like we’re actually there. Moreso is the pitch-perfect sound design by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Vyn. With the minimal amount of spoken dialogue, so many diegetic background noises are allowed to be heard in increased volume. If you see this film in theaters, it’s a special treat; little details like the snapping of a twig make it all the more immersive. But also, the editing by Christopher Tellefsen is very clever. Like how it cuts to complete silence when the perspective shifts to Simmonds or amplifies when a creature comes on-screen. Horror veteran Marco Beltrami composes and conducts the evocative musical score for this film, which may be my favorite that he’s done. There are a handful of tracks that are meant as jolting violins for jumpscares, though they’re surprisingly effective. But the best ones are low-key bits of plucked electric guitars and subtle yet repetitive piano melodies. Also worth mentioning are a handful of low strings that either delve deeper into the intensity of the thrills or the emotions. Either way, it works to get to the emotional core of the family drama. While it was a truly visceral theatrical experience, the film, unfortunately, gets a little hampered by the end. One of the most annoying things in horror movies is watching main characters make really dumb decisions solely to keep the plot going. While this film is mostly successful in avoiding that, the last act came fairly close to dropping some of the logic- such as how much sound the family is allowed to make. Also worth noting is that the creatures themselves felt like they were scarier offscreen. While their overall design is pretty cool, it definitely felt heavy on CGI. You can’t help but feel it would have been better with something a little more practical to witness. But taken as a whole, for a first-timer in the horror genre, John Krasinski shows a knack for telling a tight, resonant story that is sure to please crowds. A Quiet Place is a tautly accomplished thriller that truly lives up to its title. It’s films like these that give me hope for the future of mainstream horror cinema. Good PG-13 flicks in this genre are a rare breed, but this might be an exception to the rule. I would definitely encourage seeing this in a packed theater, especially something like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema like I did. No one will make a sound.

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My Final Oscar Predictions

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony is nigh upon us and now every cinephile around the Internet are putting in their last predictions for the winners and losers. This is the first year that I’ve done this, as previous years have had me bogged down by busy work and unavailability for some of the nominees. However, I’ve seen more of the Oscar hopefuls this year than I thought, possibly because the race has been seriously unpredictable. After last year’s unprecedented Best Picture debacle, there’s no clear frontrunner for the biggest prize. That being said I would like to throw in some of my own predictions about what will, could, and should win in each major category. I also wanted to include some films or players whom I feel were snubbed and deserved some recognition. No matter what, we’ll all have the same answers on Sunday, March 4th.

Best Picture

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Get Out

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Mudbound

 

Best Director

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Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Could Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049

 

Best Actor

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Will Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Could Win: Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: Hugh Jackman in Logan

 

Best Actress

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Will Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Should Win: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game

 

Best Supporting Actor

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Will Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project

Should Win: Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Have Been Nominated: Gil Birmingham in Wind River

 

Best Supporting Actress

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Will Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Could Win: Allison Janney in I, Tonya

Should Win: Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

 

Best Original Screenplay

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Will Win: Get Out

Could Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

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Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Could Win: Mudbound

Should Win: Logan

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z

 

Best Animated Feature Film

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Will Win: Coco

Could Win: Coco

Should Win: ONLY Coco

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Batman Movie

 

Best Foreign Language Film

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Will Win: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

Could Win: Loveless (Russia)

Should Win: The Square (Sweden)

Should Have Been Nominated: First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

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Will Win: Last Man in Aleppo

Could Win: Strong Island

Should Win: Icarus

Should Have Been Nominated: Jane or City of Ghosts

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

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Will Win: Edith & Eddie

Could Win: Traffic Stop

Should Win: Heroin(e)

Should Have Been Nominated: Long Shot

 

Best Live-Action Short Film

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Will Win: DeKalb Elementary 

Could Win: My Nephew Emmett

Should Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Have Been Nominated: Auditorium 6

 

Best Animated Short Film

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Will Win: Lou

Could Win: Negative Space

Should Win: Revolting Rhymes

Should Have Been Nominated: In a Heartbeat

 

Best Original Score

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Will Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Could Win: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer

Should Win: The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat

Should Have Been Nominated: Good Time by Daniel Lopatin

 

Best Original Song

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Will Win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Could Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: “To Be Human” from Wonder Woman

 

Best Visual Effects

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes

Should Have Been Nominated: Okja

 

Best Cinematography

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Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

Could Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lost City of Z

 

Best Costume Design

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Will Win: Phantom Thread

Could Win: Beauty and the Beast

Should Win: Phantom Thread

Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

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Will Win: Darkest Hour

Could Win: Wonder

Should Win: Darkest Hour

Should Have Been Nominated: The Shape of Water

 

Best Production Design

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Will Win: The Shape of Water

Could Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Win: Blade Runner 2049

Should Have Been Nominated: The Post

 

Best Film Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: Get Out

 

Best Sound Mixing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2

 

Best Sound Editing

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Will Win: Dunkirk

Could Win: Baby Driver

Should Win: Dunkirk

Should Have Been Nominated: John Wick Chapter 2

 

How say you? What film do you believe should, could, or will win the top prize? Be sure to leave you thoughts in the Comments, and as always if you want to see more interesting content like the one on this list, be sure to like and Follow my blog.

“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.

“The Cloverfield Paradox” Movie Review

Here we are, the first new release review of 2018! What better way to kick off the year than with a movie that dropped its announcement completely last-minute before premiering on a streaming service where it’s bound to get lost in the shuffle? In other words, just another one to add to the pile. Produced by J.J. Abrams, this sci-fi horror thriller had a surprise release on February 4th, 2018, dropping immediately after the end of the Super Bowl LII. That’s not a hyperbole; Netflix actually released this Bad Robot production 2 hours after putting a 30-second teaser on during the game. Paramount Pictures was set to distribute it, as they have both previous Cloverfield movies. But following a massive shift in leadership, and the budget ballooning from $5 million to $45 million, post-production was repeatedly pushed back for nearly two years. According to several sources, at a point, they basically just gave up and let Netflix take care of the rest. Directed by first-timer Julius Onah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ava Hamilton, one of a handful of astronauts on an international space station. In the near future when many countries are on the brink of war due to an energy crisis, the world’s space agencies launch the Cloverfield Station, which houses a powerful particle accelerator. The mission goes terribly wrong and the team discovers that the Earth has completely disappeared, igniting a fight for survival and a perilous search for the way home. It should be no surprise that I loved both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane a lot. While many people were not happy with the ending for Lane, I saw it as a great springboard for a potential franchise. And up until this one’s release, I had assumed that it would just take the form of an anthology series, akin to Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone. But this new film, previously title God Particle, attempts to put in more references and tie-ins to the 2008 found-footage original than is probably necessary. And because of this, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being a monumental disappointment, the first one of 2018. Let me be clear: I have no problem with a movie that wants to crossover with other installments of its franchise. Anything that wants to bring the whole thing full circle in a literal sense is perfectly fine by me, as long as it’s done in a way that’s not contrived or shoehorned. Unfortunately, the references in this movie are just that; contrived and shoehorned. If you want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil anything for you. It’s seriously available on Netflix right now, go ahead if you wish. But the more I think about some of the connections to its two predecessors, the less sense it starts to make. Come to think of it, the whole idea of this being a Cloverfield sequel/spinoff feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The stacked cast, for the material they’re all given here, does try her best in the lead role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, previously impressing with the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” does pretty good work as the lead Hamilton. You can tell the personal torment in her character that she tries to overcome. Chris O’Dowd was one of the biggest saving graces of the film, providing the right amounts of levity and sly timing. Even when the comedy elements feel really forced, O’Dowd is there to give a crack at it and delivers in most areas. Selma actor David Oyelowo gives his role as the crew’s captain as much command and wisdom as he can. Though it somewhat felt like he was confused whether to impersonate Captain Kirk or reenact MLK in space. Daniel Bruhl, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, and John Ortiz fill out the rest of the station’s crew. Again, they all try their best, but it doesn’t always work out very well. Technically speaking, this is a very mixed bag of a picture. Dan Mindel’s cinematography is decent enough and captures both the look and feel of a J.J. Abrams production without the overuse of lens flares. Of particular note is a scene when Mbatha-Raw is sitting up against a windshield with space on the other side. A simple moment that at least tries to showcase the scope of the story. The set designs are also fairly impressive and, although nowhere detailed as the sci-fi films it wants to pay homage to, do a good job at bringing the titular space station to life. Metal hallways are filled up with contrasting colors, which were visually appealing. However, one of the biggest areas of issue concerns the editing. So many sequences are chopped together like they were edited by 5 different people in post-production (3 are actually credited) And rushed the dailies in to get the finished print out in time. Bear McCreary is one of the most underrated film composers working in Hollywood today, but it’s nice to see Bad Robot giving him some recognition here. The score here is surprisingly passable, all things considered. Whenever we’re in the claustrophobic halls, we get low-octave, moody tracks to set the horror movie tone. But whenever the action decides to move outside into space, we get bigger, more exhilarating songs. You know the type, large orchestral tracks with pulsating percussion and quick strings. But all of it honestly feels like leftovers from a better score by McCreary. As a derivative, low-key sci-fi horror flick found on a streaming service, this movie actually works a lot better for rainy late-night viewings. As a “continuation” of a big-budget franchise, however, The Cloverfield Paradox is an unholy slapdash of last-minute ideas and dumb decisions. While I give Netflix credit for releasing it completely out of the blue, it’s now clear why Paramount didn’t really want it. If rumors are true, then Overlord will redeem this series later in the year. A shameless Alien rip-off or a new installment of an unexpected franchise. You ultimately can’t have both.

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Retrospective: 2017 Superlatives

Now that my Top 20 Best Films is published and out of the way, I wanted to go into more specific categories with Superlatives. No specific rankings here, but I just wanted to file away certain films that I saw that deserve at least some recognition. Some of these were in contention for the Top 20, others were not. But regardless, I wanted to continue my tradition from last year and give some thoughts on these.

Most Original: “Okja”

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In my experience, Bong Joon-Ho’s films can range from hitting the exact spot that they should hit or struggle to decide what tonal path they want to take. Okja is a mixture of both but there’s no denying how it is unlike anything else that’s pouring out of the studio market these days. The concept of a child forming a close bond with a creature may be familiar, but the way that Joon-Ho goes about it in this Netflix original is so unexpected and exhilarating. Filled with both heart and searing satire, this is the kind of film that more studios and production companies should be putting faith in.

*Read my full review here.

Most Surprising: “Coco”

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I had little doubt in my mind that Pixar Animation would score more laughs and fun out of the audience with Coco. But what shocked and particularly impressed me was the deep respect and reverence the creators had for Mexican culture, which is often overlooked or misappropriated by Hollywood. Moreover, the film was surprising in its examination of death and the afterlife, a topic rarely discussed in family pictures. Topped off with some of the most gorgeous visuals the animators have had to offer yet and a beautiful score by Michael Giacchino, Coco is a glorious return to form for Pixar.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overrated: “Atomic Blonde”

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Now, this just makes me sad because I really wanted to like this movie like everyone else. And while I did enjoy parts of Atomic Blonde, nothing could overcome the excessive feeling of “all style and no substance.” Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are great in their respective roles and seem to be having a lot of fun. But the spy plot needlessly and constantly twists itself in a tangled up knot to hide its inherently generic nature. And while the color scheme and use of graffiti are nice, it ultimately feels indulgent.

*Read my full review here.

Most Underrated: “Mother!”

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I know a lot of people who not only disagree with my choice on this category, but they don’t like Mother! Not at all. And honestly, I can’t blame them since the film has no regard for the audiences’ comfort level. But for me, growing up in a religious household, seeing this allegory played out with total control unleashed from Darren Aronofsky is exactly the kind of disturbing I look for. My jaw was on the floor for the last 30-45 minutes of the movie, and the controversy this film has accumulated for its plot and violence is exactly the kind of conversation that film buffs should be having.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overlooked: “The Girl With All the Gifts”

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One could attribute this film’s relative lack of success to the overcrowded zombie genre, and you’d probably be right. But unlike many other films in that worn out niche, Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts has an effective emotional core in the midst of all the flesh-eating terror and guts. Featuring a breakout performance from Sennia Nanua and some chillingly real zombie effects, the film feels like a believable examination of what would happen to children in the collapse of society. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to a live-action adaptation of The Last of Us.

*Read my full review here.

Most Disappointing: “Bright”

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“It’s like a nuclear bomb that grants wishes!” An actual line of dialogue from this huge let-down. I’ll give Netflix some credit here; they tried. In an age of studios whittling visions down to empty projects, Netflix actually tried to make an original fantasy blockbuster. They’ve even committed to a sequel already! But David Ayer’s Bright failed not just at setting up a potential franchise, not just at pathetic social commentary, but also at the most simple job: making a good movie. Max Landis seems to have a ton of ideas floating around his head, but someone really should have given this one a total rewrite. Sorry, Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, I love you guys. But make better choices.

*Read my full review here.

Funniest: “The Big Sick”

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Aside from Get Out, I can’t think of a single movie from 2017 that caught more people by surprise than The Big Sick. Revealing Kumail Nanjiani as both a brilliant screenwriter and a capable actor, the awkward true story speaks volumes about current cultural barriers without ever becoming too preachy. It is increasingly rare to find honesty or sincerity in romantic films, but Nanjiani, along with his co-writer (And real-life wife) Emily V. Gordon do just that. It doesn’t avoid the emotional weight of a loved one falling ill, but they still find genuine humor amongst it all. Capped off with the single best and most unexpected 9/11 joke in cinematic history.

*Read my full review here.

Worst: “The Emoji Movie”

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In all honesty, who was actually expecting this movie to be any good? When I first heard the announcement, I thought it was an article published by The Onion, but nope. Even so, I might be willing to subside some criticisms if Tony Leonidis and T.J. Miller really put some muscle and effort into it. But The Emoji Movie not only comes across as lazy garbage but also a stupidly cynical feature-length advertisement for various corporate phone apps. Rarely have I seen a movie that is so blatantly insulting to the intelligence of both adult AND child audiences. (Sir Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji included) The Emoji Movie is easily the worst movie of the year, and the worst animation I’ve seen yet.

*Read my full review here.

Do you agree with these superlatives? What do you think was the worst or most underrated movie of 2017? Be sure to leave your picks in the Comments below, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to like this post and Follow my Blog.