Tag Archives: Jennifer Jason Leigh

Cinema-Maniac: Annihilation (2018)

When it comes to science-fiction very few films can ever surpassed the sheer stupidity that was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) which I consider the dumbest science fiction film I’ve ever seen. I prefer sci-fi films that try to explore complex ideas about human nature over space epic. With this in mind I also understand science-fiction, like all genres, can be molded into what the storyteller so desire. So not every sci-fi is going to be smart, even though smart writing is what I typically look for in sci-fi. Annihilation ditches the advance technology in favor of being a hard sci-fi film with elements of psychological horror, and mystery thrown in. Resulting in a movie that has something to say, but doesn’t know to say it, nor combine all of its different elements into a single working piece.

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Missing in this image, intelligent life forms.

Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), and her team exploring a mysterious zone called the Shimmer that is ever expanding in order to seek answers. As far as science fiction movies goes there’s little in the way of advance technology to be found here. The movie certainly could have used some of that advance technology because you’ll have very little in that regard in the film’s writing. For starter, let’s start off with the fact the film is incapable of creating psychological horror with shallow characters. With the exception of Lena, everyone else who explores the Shimmer are clunkily developed in one exchange of dialogue. Having little to go on for these characters prevents there from being any tension building up. Lena who is fleshed out must face the more self destructive side of her personality in the few attempts the Shimmer makes to create things, and remind her of things she regrets in her past. Why the Shimmer does is not answered beyond it can refract DNA, and maybe read people’s subconscious, or mind. That last part is never confirmed. Instead of being mysterious you’ll be confused by why the story takes the direction it does.

Lena character is the only one in the movie that gets fleshed out properly, and it still finds a way to ruin that. She has a destructive behavior ruining her perfect looking marriage, and exploring Lena’s guilty conscious is the only thing the movie has to make anything compelling out of. Sadly, it’s all written, and expressed in a emotionless way devaluing any emotionally resonate this storyline could of had. The writing wants you to sympathize with her as a tragic character, and sadly it doesn’t work when everything is portrayed in a cold, disinterested manner. Detaching the emotion from the idea so to speak.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in movies, but the internal logic has to function properly either by the genre it’s most bound by, or the logic within the world it takes place in. Already having establish the world mostly resemble ours lets go over the major oversights. Starting with the obvious if its establish every team who explore the Shimmer has died with the only person to have return coughing up blood, and now quarantine. You would think with this ever expanding mysterious field taking the lives of several trained military personnel that the government would make sure nothing from the Shimmer makes its way into any public area! On top of that, the military evacuated the public from this area under the pretense of a chemical spill. Within three years no one in Maryland (where Blackwater National Park is located) suspected there was something fishy going on. Everyone just believes it’s a chemical spill.

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They look like people? Nah, must imagining things.

The biggest oversight is something that shouldn’t have been overlooked in the first place. So when the only survivor from the Shimmer is placed in a quarantined area, and people wearing hazmat suit implies that survivor is contagious. Except when Lena (and possibly dozens of other) team goes to explore inside the Shimmer without any sort of protection. More questionable is the survivor made it into a public area so who knows how many people the survivor possibly infected. Maybe none since the movie is very selective on how science works. It’s almost as baffling as not having military trained personals besides Lena joining her team of scientists. With the stated gravity of this Shimmer expanding, and possibly destroying life the government sure are some serious cheapskates, or this military just have people who are complacent about all life possibly being killed by this ever expanding mysterious field!

Once the team actually gets inside the Shimmer it’s even slower moving than it was before. The opening sequence does the Shimmer investigation a disservice by revealing who survives, and briefly establishing the fate of the other team members. With that in mind you’ll just be waiting for them to slowly get killed off. There’s a scene at a military base at night time, and all the characters are taking turns guarding the team sleeping in the lookout tower. They decide to have someone on guard hundreds of feet away from the lookout tower they are sleeping in. With a stairway leading up to the sleeping team members being unprotected they intentionally placed themselves in even more danger for no reason. They have night vision goggles, and a lookout tower that’ll give them a broader view of the area if they guard the stairway. I would worry about them, but when they can’t see a giant mutated bear point blank in front them is about the point I gave up on them! Granted this happens at night time; however, the person who gets attacked is right next to the other members of the team when she gets attacked by a giant mutated bear. Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention everyone on Lena’s team we follow are some sort of scientists. I can’t buy into that when they’re hardly seen taking notes insider the shimmer.

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Perfectly describes this move in a single sentence

Without spoiling any specifics the climax resolution is sure to make your IQ drop to double digits. This is because of how easily the Shimmer itself, and everything it created gets destroyed in the film. Making it laughable that the first teams who explored the Shimmer when it was just in inside the lighthouse didn’t bother using any sort of flammable weapons to destroy it. Then comes the ending which takes it sweet time getting too. The climax which takes place in the lighthouse where the Shimmer originated goes on for too long. All that happens is Lena gets some vague answers leading to a name drop, a grenade like weapon pin gets pulled, and conflict resolved. This all takes longer than it should play out. Padding the sequence by having Lena slowly move around the lighthouse. Once the final shot of the movie cut to black I stopped caring about the fate of humanity in this film. If it was that easy for them to eliminate the threat, and the fact these stupid characters are the ones that did it is quite the feat it pulled off in dumb writing.

Annihilation is written, and directed by Alex Garland. I already bashed his poor writing skills on the story front, but as a director he doesn’t know how to give his actors good direction. The only one who manages to pull of anything well is Natalie Portman. She takes a broken character, and subtly displays constant self doubt in her. When she sounds detach speaking about herself, or her husband it come off naturally for the character to be speaking that way. Her co-stars on the other hand have a leash around them preventing them from showing too much emotions. Jennifer Jason Leigh suffers the most from this looking bored in several scenes. Garland, for some reason, wrote her a character who doesn’t display much emotion in the first place. So when Jennifer Leight is suppose to start losing it she acts no differently from when she was sane. The muted colors don’t help either, but having everything be so detached from emotion when you’re attempting to be psychological is counter intuitive.

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Only one thing could have done this. Man Bear Pig!

So without expressive actors the only other way Alex Garland tries to keep his audiences awake are through the brief moments of blood, and gore. One scene involving Oscar Isaac cutting through a soldier stomach with a knife has some convincing practical effects. It then gets ruined by fake looking CGI intestines. In general, the special effects are pretty good, especially the gore. There’s also another scene where a mutated bear attacks our tied up team in a house. The audio is so badly distorted that Garland to advise his actor to spell it out for the audience one of the team members mutated. Not only that, but this sequence involving the mutated team member in a house is pretty lame. When all it takes is a single clip from automatic gun to the head to kill a mutated bear how is there supposed to be tension. If the Shimmer distorts DNA, and this is the worse in terms of dangerous distorted lifeforms the team is going to be alright.

Annihilation is a hallow film detached from anything resembling human empathy. Attempting to have a broad psychological scope gets derails quickly through stupid writing, dumb characters, and a disinterested visionary. When you write a scene involving a team of scientists traveling by boat through a swamp after being attacked by a mutated alligator, you need to go back to the drawing board, and spend time tweaking around with simple logic before tackling anything complex. Alex Garland had good ideas, and a good cast to pull off something good, but it’s all goes to waste in this misfire effort.

Rating: 3/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Hateful Eight (2015) Review

Last time I wrote about anything related to Quentin Tarantino was when I reviewed Django Unchained back in 2013. I got bombarded with arguments for calling the film decent, and criticizing the writing. Like the time when I posted a negative review for the film Frozen I once again stood my post, and debated the best of my abilities on my position on the film. Unlike the arguments presented in Frozen, the counter arguments brought up were good in defense of Django Unchained, but seriously didn’t fixed what still is a broken premise movie. If you don’t believe me (speaking directly to Tarantino “fans”) that Django Unchained premise is broken; well Dr. Schultz simply could have had Django work on his, or his friend slave farm while Schultz goes off to buy Django wife. That’s a viable solution, but since the film itself never brings it up everything about the story ends up feeling convoluted as it is actively trying to ignore this huge gap in logic with several other gap of logic (like the opening scene in Django Unchained). Now once again I find myself in the same position of Quentin Tarantino writing a Western. While the setup is a not a broken premise repeats from Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight suffers from more serious issues. It is a premise that makes sure it’s a story that should be told, but not written in a way to show that conviction.

The Hateful Eight is set in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Upon entering the frame Major Marquis Warren (all rise for Samuel L. Jackson) sets up the atmosphere elegantly. His first lines of dialogue sets up the political climate of the era the film takes place in, the profession of Marquis Warren, his goal in the film, and his manner of speaking being very revealing of his personality. This same expertly done character establishment holds true when John Ruth (Kurt Russell) whose handcuffed with Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) are introduced into the film. Despite the fun personalities of these characters they do speak about each other bad deeds. These actions other characters speak on paint a grey in presentation of morality. If the film spend as much time developing the other characters like it did for John Ruth, Chris Mannix, and Marquis Warren then there would be a film worth showering with praises.

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“You will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee”.

The film is set up into six chapters, and past chapter two the film fall apart from it own weight. This is mostly due to the unevenness in screentime from the characters, and the importance they hold in the story. For example, Daisy Domergue is a character whose defining characteristic is her bounty worth, and she’s a woman who killed. It takes the film over two hours to build on her character, and by the time she gets developed it’s no longer grey in presentation in the story. It gets established who is who, and why they perform the action they do by the time Daisy gets developed. The biggest shortcoming in the writing is showing favoritism in a film that intends for its audience to hate all the characters equally. For instance, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) gets very little to do in the story, and has no significant scene in the film that justified his creation. In Chapter 5, a brief moment is specifically written to present him negatively because the film story doesn’t know how else to use him. He’s simply a fodder character despite the writing claiming otherwise.

Then there’s also the character of O.B. (James Park) who despite having less lines of dialogue than Joe Gage is actually more significant to the story. O.B. is simply a background character who’s a stagecoach driver, and does not present any hateful traits even among the other characters. However, unlike Joe Gage where his hatred is force, O.B. positive presentation in the story serves as the only presence of a seemingly good, innocent person in the film. Being put to a greater use than a major character written in the film. Another fodder treated character is Bob (Demian Bichir) who’s main characteristic is he’s Mexican. His role in the story is treated like Joe Gage; no significance in any scene, and simply fodder in the cast. Now, there’s a character who doesn’t appear until around two hours into the film named Jody (Channing Tatum) who plays a far greater role in the film. He’s absent for a majority of the film, yet is given the importance of a major character. Not only does this affect the presentation of Joe Gage, and Bob as wholly useless in the film narrative, but further highlight the misusage of time spent on them.

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Imagine! Squealing Pigs.

A double edge sword of the dialogue is how it’s delivered. It’s very evident that when a character reveals plenty about themselves to strangers on a whim it spells out expository dialogue. However, the flashiness of how the character speak can make the force exposition, and character development enjoyable to see unfold. What’s not is when certain plot points like Marquis’s letter from Abraham Lincoln, Daisy Domergue is a criminal worth 10,000 dollars, and fights in the civil war are repeatedly brought up. Marquis letter from Lincoln is an exception as its use to developed Marquis as a character. The significance of the letter makes Marquis three dimensional, and a complex character for how much values he places on it. It also serves an important character moment in the ending for how much value is placed on it, even after learning of its true origin.

The other topics that are brought up is the Civil War, the reputation of characters, and Daisy Domergue bounty. With plenty of characters these limited topics could fill up three hours’ worth of dialogue. Unfortunately, it becomes tedious when established facts like Daisy bounty worth, Marquis Lincoln letter, and character specific traits are repeated multiple times within the film. When no variation is applied, or adding something new to an established story element makes the viewing experience feel like it’s three hours, or longer in some scenes. Especially when seeing a small act of violence, and predicting the outcome of that scene. In order to withhold progress lengthy monologues are written into the film. Now, not the all the monologues are purposeless, but the ones that are simply prolonging the expected outcome of a scene.

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It’s what you don’t see in this picture that’s important. That’s subtlety.

No other scene in the film than Major Marquis Warren suspect deduction scene can better highlight the weakness of Quentin Tarantino writing in The Hateful Eight. In this specific scene, Samuel L. Jackson does a stupendous job for around ten, or so minutes performing the scene. His delivery, and body movement is over the top like the leap in logic being presented. Now in order for Marquis Warren suspect deduction to have worked certain facts had to be established before entering the scene. However, no such thing occurs in the film as the many conversations Marquis Warren has among the characters only one foreshadows a possibility of criminals in a room. That one scene doesn’t established that Minnie (the owner) was racist towards a specific group of people, the “cooked the stew” allegation doesn’t stand on much ground since anyone else who was in the cabin could have cooked it as well, and the owner husband love for his chair is only known to Marquis. These details aren’t alluded to, nor share among the viewers. It’s withholding information for the sake of forced tension. This is singlehandedly, the most convoluted piece of writing under Tarantino name, besides the premise to Django Unchained.

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“From now no I see a red sash, I kill the man wearing it. So run you cur. And tell the others curs the law is coming. You tell ’em I’m coming! And Hell’s coming me you hear! Hell’s coming with me!”

What finally makes the film come around full circle is, well, the lack of hateful characters. If I were to push my morality aside, the uneven screen time, and uneven character development of the cast hinders what could have been a complex film. If the film started in Minnie’s Haberdashery the criticism of uneven portrayal for the characters would still stand. Joe Gage would still have little to his character, Bob would still just be a Mexican in the story, but it wouldn’t be as prominent as it is now. Another issue is Tarantino to maintain his signatures marks on the film even though it works against the film. I’m expected to believe that within the same movie a revolver is strong enough to blow up someone’s head at point blank range, yet when those same revolvers are fired in different scenes the amount of force from those shots don’t cause someone leg, hand, or even chest to blow up in the same over the top manner.

When the brief moments of blood, gore, and violence do appear on screen it’s entirely out of place. The moments of violence are over the top when the entire film is restraint in presentation. While the actors are hamming, and over the top what generally is not are the characters. They talked about the Civil War repeatedly, the bad deeds of the people in the cabin repeatedly, and at no point in the film establishes a tone that would work in over the top violence. It’s sloppily written which is the biggest shame. There are ideas in place for a great movie, but after chapter two it loses it ways, and is unable to find where its original destination in the first place.

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“I’m getting too old for this shit”

This film redeeming trait are the performances from its cast. Samuel L. Jackson is easily the best actor in the cast stealing the spotlight in every scene. He’s over the top in line delivery, and mannerism on screen. Balancing serious dramatic with over the top antics without breaking character, or the tone of the film. His extensive monologue is where he shins going minutes at a times speaking by himself. In one scene, Samuel L. Jackson character Marquis tells a story in glorious fashion. As any story teller would Jackson raises his excitement, and changing his tone to fit the scene of his description. Jackson is performance is plain, and simple justifies the price of admission in checking out the film.

Kurt Russell also does a good job in the film as John Ruth. However, his performance doesn’t allow him the freedom of that of Samuel L. Jackson. Russell character is more rude, and crude in his personality. He’s able to sell his unflattering character convincingly as a leading actor. His performance is also worthy of another praise since it’s capable of misleading audiences, but revealing any specifics would ruin it. All I’ll say is I didn’t see it coming given how good Kurt Russell is in the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Daisy Domergue who is handcuffed to John Ruth for virtually the entirely film. Leigh character is also the most realistic since her character is written in a more restrained manner because of the position she’s in. Despite the constraint of being handcuffed to another actor she does allot more than expected of her. Through simple gestures she’s able to reveal much of her character hateful, and playful nature. She able to come across as manipulative, sympathetic, and funny with, or without dialogue. Add to the fact she does not have the same freedom of body movements since she’s handcuffed to Kurt Russell.

Walton Goggins plays Chris Mannix in the movie. His performance is very cheesy due to his best described “country bumpkin” accent. He is mostly in the film to play up the dark humor. To his credit he’s able to deliver on the jokes despite the tonal problem the film has. His comedic timing is spot on, but sometime it won’t get a laugh. However, that’s more of a fault with the material, and not Walton Goggins as an actor. Goggins, if anything, is also a spotlight in the film for his entertaining performance. The last standout performance comes from Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray. Despite his profession of hanging people for a living Roth presents himself as a gentleman. Flamboyant in the manner he speaks he emphasizes the best aspects of Tarantino dialogue. Tim Roth is entertaining for the whole film, and was perfectly cast in the role.

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I’ll be here if you need me.

Everyone else is unfortunately a victim of a thankless role. The only actor who goes mostly unscathed is Channing Tatum as Jody who mostly has to be charming in the short screen time he’s given. Michael Madsen as Joe Gage, and Demian Bichir as Bob are two actors that get short changed in their roles. Demian Bichir Mexican accent is the only noteworthy aspect of his performance. Too bad Bichir doesn’t get a scene to demonstrate his acting chops. Madsen on the other hand does get that chance when he’s introduce, but he has to stick with the tough guy persona. He’s unable to break from his mold which makes him another wasted addition in the cast. Then there’s Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers. For the character he played the less is more approach works in his favor. Dern is only in the film for his appearance working in favor of the character he is playing. Finally, there’s James Park as O.B. who does little speaking. As mentioned before with Dern, James Park role is simply for appearances purposes.

One pointless addition to the cast that was entirely unneeded was Quentin Tarantino himself. After the intermission is over he narrates a generalization of the events that led to the current event in the story. It’s about as pointless as much as it is self-indulgent. The camera shows the turning point of the story by itself, and the narration adds nothing to it. Tarantino simply states the obvious in the scene when the scene itself was all that was needed to get what he wanted across. It’s especially more self-indulgent when there’s no narration for virtually the entire film. I mean, Tarantino could simply state the obvious in every scene possible if he wanted as this brief narration proves. While on Tarantino his direction in the film is uninspired in the film. The performances show more personality than the cinematography itself. His biggest downfall is failing to use the background as part of a narrative tool. The cinematography is best at showcasing its actors’ performances, but if you’re expecting grand vistas you’ll be disappointed as the majority of the film takes place in door. Ennio Morricone (I bow down to this man’s legacy) score whenever in use is fantastic. Immediately upon hearing it sets up the atmosphere as soon as the first note hits. Morricone score isn’t used much in the film, but whenever it is the scene makes the most of its music.

The Hateful Eight is a very serious film from Quentin Tarantino who shares no serious intention to fix his shortcomings from his writing when he last venture in the Western genre. Why would he when the world of criticism, and his fans have already given him pedestal to stand on. Regardless of the criticism I, and anyone else might have with Tarantino films it will be overshadowed by those in the fan base that will accept his creation just because his name is on it. Django Unchained is a weak presentation of Tarantino writing. However, the tone of it made the leap in logic, and sometime cartoony events be forgivable. In The Hateful Eight not so much as its serious tone makes it shortcoming less forgivable. Here’s lies a film where signs of Tarantino only being able to make one of kind film shows. He wants to do a serious a film that discusses serious issues, but is unable to remove his personality in order to do so. That there is the sole reason why The Hateful Eight ends up being a film where uncertainty is prevalent throughout it.

5/10

Footnote on 70MM: Not Worth The Price of Admission

As mentioned in the review around 88% of the film takes place inside a stagecoach passover called Minnie’s Haberdashery, and the remaining 12% would roughly be outdoor scenes. Now here’s the problem, the film does not use the 70MM format to it’s advantage at all. It’s a film that emphasizes dialogue over grand vistas. The very few 3% of a three hour film (counting the 15 minute intermission) are massive shots of the frozen wilderness which not justified the format to see the film. If I were instead writing about, say, Mad Max: Fury Road in 70MM format I would say the extra cost is worth seeing (despite my thoughts on the writing) on the bigger screen because it went big on its visual. The Hateful Eight doesn’t go all the way. Instead you’ll just be paying extra to see a bunch of actor just simply talking in one location, which is unnecessary to see in its 70MM.