Annihilation

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Writer and director Alex Garland has proved he knows how to make a good Sci-Fi. Primarily known for his writing, Garland took a shot at directing his first film, Ex Machina, in 2014. With its huge success, he chose to direct his next precious baby, Annihilation. The short form of what’s in store for you is Arrival meets Alien meets Prometheus. You’ll find a lot of crossover in films…”wait where have I seen this before?!” Borrowing isn’t a bad thing – think of it instead as a sounding board to new, bigger and better ideas. Its key similarity to Arrival is the overall plot, and comparable to Alien in the developing revelations, and aesthetically like Prometheus in that it’s next level visually impressive.

The majority of Garland’s films fall into the Sci-Fi genre. His scripts have been unique since Day 1…The Beach, a classic Leo DiCaprio film. Annihilation is no different – a strange, unfamiliar region materializes on Earth and appears to be spreading. A group of female scientists volunteer to head into “the shimmer” in the hopes of finding out what lies within. The expedition is no walk in the park. Shocker! The twists and turns will cause spikes of adrenaline, not always in welcomed ways so expect to cover your eyes. Be warned: this ain’t for the faint of heart. The writing takes unusual turns, developing into an incredibly complex story that’ll have you scratching your head for days.

Directing your own script, thus knowing the story inside and out gives Garland the freedom to bring his vision to life exactly how he originally intended it to be. From the start he sets the tone with dark frames and creepy POVs of the characters, sometimes up close and personal, to instigate an uneasy feeling. Mission accomplished dude. The feeling was palpable in the theater – everyone on edge, shakin in our boots (seriously winter, times up). He’ll have you questioning where we’re headed next, all the while teasing bits and pieces of the future where the questions are answered, but never shows enough to make it predictable. This tactic will have you guessing up until the very end. Once their mission begins, those dark frames transition into a gorgeous, vibrant, almost Avatar like setting. He juxtaposed the peculiar and evil personality traits of the women in contrast to the deceptively gorgeous environment within. The stark difference between the outside and the inside only further adds to the fear of what’s to come.

Garland worked with a lot of the same experts from Ex Machina, seeming to be a well-oiled team. Cinematographer Rob Hardy’s camera movements are steady, letting you observe and digest the surroundings and get to know the characters. Music composers are largely to blame for our tense emotions during creepy and eerie films. Just as they did in Ex Machina, music composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did exactly that.

Although not a lead, Garland also cast a familiar face, Oscar Isaac, from you guessed it, Ex Machina. Annoyed yet of hearing that name? If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’re curious now, huh? Isaac’s creepy facial expressions and mannerisms hinted from the first second that the film was going headed in a sinister direction real quick. Lead actress, Natalie Portman who clearly knows the true meaning of a disturbing role after winning an Oscar in 2011 for Black Swan only further demonstrated her depth as a phenomenal actor. She led the pack of her badass girl scouts comprised of Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Tessa Thompson (Creed). These ladies were all chilling in their own right, embodying their characters both physically and mentally to no end. Here we see a film led by women, but not just any women, but SCIENTISTS. Look at that – we’re being shown as smart too. Wow look at you Hollywood!

Bottom line: If you’re not down to feel anxious and on edge, stay away. If you can stomach it, it’s worth it, as Annihilation has it all: thought provoking story, striking graphics, and one kickass cast. Here’s the only caveat – you’re highly likely to have some graphic, bizarre and perhaps even disturbing dreams, but it’s worth a sleepless night.  

Only the Brave

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The Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters, on whom this true story is based on, represent everything about the title, Only the Brave. True stories, especially ones as sensitive as this, should be made with extreme precision and care. There are many layers to peel back, as well as countless people involved so it’s the writer, director and actors' duty to get it right. 

If you’re a history buff and enjoy true stories, this couldn’t be a better fix. There’s a 50/50 chance you know all about it. Honestly, I didn’t, and am so grateful to writers Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) for bringing it to the big screen. Nolan and Singer start at the beginning, in 2005, to show the hoops firefighters have to jump through to get elite status (think Karate, white to black belt). This highlights the evolution of each mans' character (can you say character development?). This all leads to the Yarnell Fire in 2013, the real reason for the film. 

Script, check! Now the pressure is on director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) to get it right on screen. Hollywood films are dramatized; it’s just a fact. However, there’s a fine line and Kosinski didn’t cross it. It’s the ideal fix for adrenaline junkies and uh well whatever you call the opposite. Each fire scene is more nerve wracking than the one before it so get ready to cover your eyes. The great thing about Kosinski’s directing here is he lets you catch your breath in between each one, but that's also when the characters come to feel like family. Then all at once, he hits you with the ending. No one will ever know why what happened, happened, so Kosinski made it a point not to stipulate and just present us with the facts. See…fine line.

Now it was up to the actors to clinch the deal. Each one clearly showed how invested they were in their respective characters. Josh Brolin (W.), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), and Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) all gave Oscar worthy performances that will bring you to tears. They did their best to honor these admirable men and their loving families. That came through the screen clear as day.

Bottom line: Brave yourself, I mean brace yourselves for Only the Brave. It should serve as a reminder to us all how lucky we are that there are men and women who are willing to protect us everyday. You simply must-see this film.

Chuck

You’re probably asking yourself, who’s Chuck Wepner? Believe it or not, you know who he is. Ever heard of Rocky (1976)? Most of you probably just chuckled…duh! Well little did you know, Rocky Balboa’s story is actually inspired by Chuck Wepner’s life, the former American professional boxer who fought at the heavyweight level. When Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor, he went to the famous Muhammad Ali and Wepner fight. Intrigued by the story, Stallone went home and cranked out a script that put him on the map, Rocky. You had me at hello – I had to learn more, prime time Jeopardy material right here!

Four writers were clearly just as fascinated as Stallone: Jeff Feuerzeig (Chuck), Jerry Stahl (Bad Boys II), Michael Cristofer (Gia) and last but not least, Liev Schrieber himself (Ray Donovan), who plays Chuck Wepner in the film. This is gold – I mean who wouldn’t want to recount the story behind one of the most iconic American films in history. The writers dove right in, introducing Wepner at a lull in his life. They used his boxing career as a means to get to the meat of the story, Wepner’s true nature outside of the ring. His arrogance got the best of him, thus outside of boxing he was a disappointment to everyone that loved him. Plain and simple, Chuck was a walking cliché. It wasn't until his 2nd wife, played by Naomi Watts (King Kong), brings out another side of him that we see the good in Wepner. Fun fact: Watts also happens to be Schrieber’s ex wife in real life… RIP to their 11 year marriage. Schrieber flawlessly exemplified all of Wepner's sides and boy were there were a lot. He maintained Wepner’s arrogant façade, but somehow without saying a word showed the side the boxer always tried to hide, his insecurity. Now that’s what I call stellar acting!

The writers got by with a little help from their friend: director, Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie). He seamlessly interwove real-life footage, a dream for any diehard sports fan. Cover your eyes when blood is flying and you hear the sounds of bones breaking with every punch, but it’s also cool to see in slow motion if you can stomach it. It’s not the anticipation of what is going to happen that will have your knees bouncing up and down, but instead the soundtrack that’ll have you singing along (and maybe even want to download it after the movie). The interpretation of what this time in history looked like through the cinematography and costume design is so real, it feels like you’re with Wepner every step of the way.

Bottom line: Chuck is a KO (knock-out), and laugh out loud funny, an added plus that makes it even more worth it to head to the theaters to see this latest meaningful biopic.

 

 

 

 

Unforgettable

What do you get when you mix a jealous ex-wife and a hot, badass, successful, and all around great new girlfriend (ok fine, I’m biased)? A big f***ing disaster. That pretty much sums up Unforgettable, the latest Fatal Attraction (1987)-esk film, staring Rosario Dawson (Rent), Katherine Heigel (Grey’s Anatomy), and Geoff Stults (Wedding Crashers).

You might be asking yourself, why make these films anymore? Uh, been there, done that! The answer is simple: second to low budget slasher films, it’s the easiest formula to follow. All you need is a lover’s triangle – a man who’s monkey in the middle and two batshit crazy ladies. So you guessed it, director, Denise Di Novi (Edward Scissorhands), and writers Christina Hodson (Shut In) and David Leslie Johnson (Orphan) followed this recipe to the tee.

Stults is the hunk who all the single ladies, all the single ladies want to have him put a ring on it. So Stults decides Dawson is the one…puts a ring on it (it’s in the previews, don’t get your knickers in a twist). His hopeless romantic ex-wife, played by Heigel, had her chance, but blew it with let’s just say, some poor decision-making. Heigel doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record in Hollywood…diva, diva, diva (snap yo fingers back and forth). So let’s just say she played this psychotic role a little too well for my liking. Insert monkey covering his eyes emoji. Things go from 0 to 100, reeeal quick!

The cray cray behavior and heart pounding score will even have the adrenaline junkies jumping out of their seats. The director and writers may or may not have intended to make a parody of this cliché storyline. That’s evidenced by the laugh out loud moments. Whether or not there’s a guy unintentionally who yelped out “OMG!” during a crazy scene or your best friend is uncontrollably laughing (yes both happened to me), you’ll find yourself amused. There’s plenty where that came from. Things go amiss from the start, more and more outlandish by the minute, but it never skips a beat or looses focus. The writers tied up all loose ends down to the very last detail, an impressive feat.

Bottom line: Unforgettable meets every expectation. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be after watching the previews – psychopathic, laughable, and yet oddly entertaining. It’s ideal for a girl’s night out or a couple’s retreat, but word to the wise, do not, I repeat, do not rip a page out of Heigel’s playbook, no matter how glorified the film makes it out to be. The world has enough crazy to go around! 

Life

I didn’t sleep last night. Wanna know why? One word: Life. I’m not referring to our very existence here on Earth, I’m referring to the most horrifying movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve never been so scared in my life, no pun intended, and here’s why…

Trailers can do one of two things; either they give everything away or they mislead you entirely. Now typically I prefer the latter, but in this case, I would’ve preferred full disclosure. For those who don’t watch trailers (smart move by the way) I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The film takes place on board a Mars expedition spacecraft. The scientists' objective is to search for life on Mars. It’s no secret. They find it, but let’s just say it turns ugly, real ugly, going from 0 to 100, real quick.

Director, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), and the cinematographer, often known as a DP (Director of Photography), Seamus McGarvey (The Avengers), replicated what it would be like to live in space. The shots showed the actors living in zero gravity, moving through the spacecraft, close up and from a distance, making it look as natural as can be. They even showed how water and blood don't splatter on the floor when in space. They stay in their natural form, picture a bubble. All of this set the scene nicely, with visuals that were so vivid, you'll feel like you're onboard.  

I mentioned blood. Let’s just say the alien grows and it’s not a cute or cuddly. This thing is next level terrifying and what’s worse is its transformation looks identical to the single celled organisms we learned about in school, appearing all too real. Well thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible), Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine), Ariyon Bakare (The Dark Knight) and Olga Dihovichnaya (Life) I’m going to have nightmares for many nights to come. The violence was sickening, the images gruesome, and the sounds nauseating. Covering your eyes won’t help you because the frightening music and the revolting noises will spread goose bumps up and down your spine. Don’t text in a movie like I did, shame on me, but I had to, anything to distract myself. “Breathe, it’s just a movie,” my friend said. “WAS IT?! Because it seemed pretty freakin real to me!” I became so nauseous I couldn’t even eat my popcorn and had to take a doggy bag. Unless you can stomach this type of horror, and I’m serious by stomach (I almost threw up and may or may not have shed a tear), skip it and get a cozy, good night's sleep.

Bottom line: I’ve warned you, and that goes for the adrenaline junkies too. It wasn’t just me – people were running out left and right, I debated it multiple times. Watch the series of Alien films from the 70s and 80s first, then times it by 100 and that’s Life. Oh yeah and you can bet your behind there will be a sequel, oh joy...can’t wait! 

Logan

I’ve been a weee bit nervous to write about the latest X-Men installment, Logan, staring, yup you guessed it, Hugh Jackman (The Prestige) as Wolverine.  It’s important to preface this by saying I’m a diehard X-Men fan: series faithful is an understatement. I remember seeing the first film in 2000 like it was yesterday and can’t believe we’re talking about the 10th film now in 2017. It’s definitely not a casual series to pick up. The timelines and plots of each don’t match that of its predecessors, jumping into the future and back, so it definitely takes some patience. Fan or not, we owe a lot to Marvel, the gold standard of all wannabe superhero films. And with Jackman leaving this franchise after 17 years, staring in 9 out of the 10 films (Deadpool being the exception), this film is the end of an era.

I’ll come right out and say it; I didn’t like the film. It’s been made pretty clear by every other X-Men fan that this couldn’t have been a better sendoff to Jackman. For some reason, it just didn’t resonate with me and here’s why:

It was clear from the start that writer and director James Mangold (Walk the Line), along with Scott Frank (The Minority Report) and Michael Green (Green Lantern) intended to differentiate Logan; not only from the X-Men series itself, but also from superhero films in general. Notice anything about their distinguished films? Dark. Dark. Dark. Great, but dark. That was the immediate tone. Wolverine is exhausted – I mean the dude has had a long run with some gnarly injuries…that miraculously heal. Surely wouldn’t be my ideal superpower, but it could come in handy with the occasional paper cut, perhaps even a mosquito bite. Point is, Wolverine would never have wanted that superpower either. He’d prefer a “normal” life, which is problemo numero uno for me – is the wild wild west his idea of a normal life? It just seemed like an unlikely match for a superhero film, and even when I remind myself “this one is intentionally different,” I still can’t get past it.

Anguish, aging, family and mortality are all critical themes in Logan. For a film that is supposed to be so meaningful, why not actually focus on that substance, instead of excessive violence, catering only to adrenaline junkies? That’s where problemo numero dos comes into play: gory, I mean real gory. We’re talking Quentin Terrantino sh** times 100. It’s the first time an X-Men film has been rated R so Mangold really ran with it. First time motion picture actress, Dafne Keen, Wolverine’s sidekick, was the one that forced me to cover my eyes the most. Keen is Eleven on crack (Stranger Things, do it if you haven’t already). Good little actress, but her screaming and wailing the entire time was excessive. I felt like Anchorman Brick Tamland…“WHY ARE WE YELLING?!” Take it down a notch, girl. Mangold, you had me at hello with the first 3 fight scenes. I’m sorry to say, this cast a shadow over the entire film for me and I was unable to recover because it never let up.   

Bottom line: I’m not in the business of bashing films – it’s not in my best interest, or yours because after all, everyone has different tastes. I respect Mangold and the other writers for going out of a superhero film’s comfort zone, but for me personally it went waaay out into no man’s land and as the credits rolled and the audience was clapping, I asked myself, “did I miss something?” As big of a X-Men fan as I am, I was left sad and disappointed. Not because of the films’ dark material, but because for what closed the wound for most fans, left a gaping hole for me, and there’s no chance for redemption. It’s not called final chapter for nothing.  

P.S: There are no blurbs at the end, Marvel’s signature – throw salt into the wound, why don’t cha!

Get Out

First time writer and director, Jordan Peele (Keanu), spells it out in the title…Get Out. GET THE HELL OUT is more like it.  Take it or leave it, if you decide to see it, you can’t say no one warned you.

Right off the bat, Blumhouse Productions’, known for low budget horror films, opening sequence scared the sh** out of me, so yeah not a great start. I can’t say I know a ton about horror films, as I prefer actually watching a film, rather than covering my eyes, but something I do know is that what separates the bad from the great are the ones that get under your skin and inside your head. Get Out accomplishes both, and for Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), the main victim and protagonist in the film, this becomes all too real.

The music sets the scene: ominous, off-putting, yet out of place. It was Quentin Tarantino-esk (Kill Bill) – a score that contradicts what appears on screen. Think Inglorious Bastards when the Bear Jew (re-watch if this doesn’t ring a bell) appears on screen for the first time. The music: a Mexican standoff. Bit out of place, huh? That’s because it is, but a tactic being used by more and more directors to throw you off balance.

After reflecting and digesting the film, it kills me that I can’t fully divulge all of the hidden racist themes. Some are plain as day, but others are brilliantly interwoven. Focusing on the plot while trying not to pee your pants ain’t easy. I feel you. Peele hits any and every stereotype you can think of. There’s even a common thread of colors: red, black, and white. Hey! Give me a break that’s the only thing I will reveal. While the twists and turns are more than satisfying for any adrenaline junkie, the film is so much more than that. It’s smart, sophisticated and even funny with plenty of laugh out loud moments, all thanks to Peele.

Actors, Allison Williams (Girls) who plays the girlfriend, Catherine Keener (40 Year-Old Virgin) as the mother, Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as the father, and last but certainly not least Kaluuya as the main character played exceptionally well. I don’t ever want to be left alone in a room with Keener – thankfully when I was spinning next to her two days ago, I was in a room of 60 people. Phew. Can’t hypnotize me Ms. Keener!

Bottom Line: Even those of you who don’t like horror films should make an exception. This is the first of many satirical films with themes of racism. It’s a hot topic. Looking at you Mr. President. But seriously, don’t forget to bring a friend along for a girl’s night out or your significant other for a couple’s retreat, this is not a ridin’ solo kind of gig.  It’s only been 2 weeks and Get Out is already a box office hit, 46.2 million and counting. TBH my gut told me stay away, but I live to tell the tale.

 

Silence

Who dreams of making a film like Silence for 28 years? Martin Scorsese (The Departed) clearly, but why? This bothered me to no end; I needed answers. Due to severe asthma, young Scorsese couldn’t spend time outside. Instead, he spent his time at movie theaters and the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral as an altar boy. His interest in religion and spirituality never ceased. After reading “Silence,” Shūsaku Endō’s novel in 1988, about two Jesuit priests who go to Japan in 1639 to find a fellow priest, he was determined to make it a film. His dreams finally came true! He cast Liam Neeson (Taken), Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) for the main roles. Now that I understand this background, it gives Silence a lot more meaning. Sadly, that doesn’t make up for its many shortcomings.

The scenery is stunning, but the cinematography lacked creativity, something we’ve come to expect from Scorsese. He filmed entirely in Taiwan, even though Japan is the location of origin in the book. Bearing in mind this is his “biggest passion project,” I’m surprised he didn’t set the film in Japan for authenticity purposes. Unbeknownst to me, the gorgeous images of nature were often blurred due to a heavy use of fog. The actors were hard to see because of this and the long distance from which they filmed. This occurred far too much, creating a monotonous feeling…slow is an understatement. Round and round the story went, ping ponging back and forth with no end in sight. Jay Cocks (The Gangs of New York) and Scorsese, the screenwriters, should know better.

Additionally, with all the violence consistently in Scorsese’s films, the action scenes were less than impressive. The beheadings, guts and gore were apparently fake. It’s worth not covering your eyes to see this for yourself.

On a positive note, Adam Driver is the MVP – dude lost 50 pounds for this role! I was dying to slip him a quadruple big mac. He was skinny to begin with so this was a shocker. Driver is a great actor who transforms himself completely for his roles, unlike Garfield who’s never fully convincing. There’s something about him that really gets me – a pretentious and self-righteous way about him that comes through in his roles, most recently this year in Hacksaw Ridge and now Silence. And while Neeson was disappointingly not on screen for long, you're reminded why he has a badass rep even in those few precious moments. Gotta love him!

Bottom Line: Scorsese is a cinematic genius – his films are always worth seeing. Don’t get me wrong, see it, but you don’t need to run to see it. I'd say it can be more of a light stroll, kind of like the agonizing pace of the film. You could hear a pin drop, but I guess that's why he called it Silence.