Annihilation


Viewed – 18 March 2018  Netflix

As much as I’m a fan of Natalie Portman, I confess to not really seeking out her stuff since the acclaimed Black Swan … strange when I consider that one of the best movies of the last ten years.  So I jumped at the chance to check out this latest Netflix Original movie.  Portman plays a biological scientist who following the mysterious disappearance of her military officer husband (Oscar Isaac) gets recruited by a government organisation headed by Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  You see, a strange alien encounter has occurred affecting a now closed off area where a strange vapour has cut communications and anyone who has ventured inside, has not come back.

Annihilation

This gritty and scarily-convincing sci-fi drama is helmed by Alex Garland, the man who made Ex Machina, another great thought-provoking piece of sci-fi.  This guy clearly understands his subject and has delivered another very effective experience.  The entire movie has a tone to it that’s rather dream-like and sometimes messes with one’s head; trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not.  Add to this flashbacks exploring Portman’s and Isaac’s relationship, with several revelations along the way and this proves a meatier story than it first appears.  The alien ‘presence’ and how it effects the female scientists who go looking for answers is also handled imaginatively and gives an interesting spin on the whole alien-encounter subject, with truly unnerving possibilities.

It takes a while to get going, and is marred by some questionable CGI, and the logic behind the expedition left me a tad puzzled.  However, with strong performances across the board, especially an excellent Portman – this is well worth checking out … especially if you’re after something that will leaving you really thinking afterwards.

Verdict:  4 /5

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Leon


Viewed – 08 February 2014  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

I remember seeing a trailer to this way back when and going fairly blindly to see it in the cinema.  Me and a friend of mine were blown away by it, and it quickly became one of our all time favourite movies.  The story of twelve year old Mathilda (a brilliant debut from Natalie Portman) who in the aftermath of her family being wiped out takes refuge in the company of the shy, illiterate hitman who lives down the corridor (Jean Reno) … a friendship blossoms and soon she’s hatching a plot to take revenge.  Gary Oldman is a corrupt DEA agent who cracks pills between his teeth and listens to Beethoven whilst killing people who rip him off – and orchestrating all this with finesse and skill is French new-wave director Luc Besson (Nikita, The Fifth Element) to a soundtrack by Eric Serra.

Leon Natalie Portman_edited

This is a movie that has it all, great performances from the street-wise but naive Portman all cocky but falling apart at the seams, to Reno’s subtle and convincing portrayal of a child in a man’s body who just happens to know how to kill.  Then there is Oldman, in possibly his craziest but most memorable role (get me eeeeeeeeeeverybody!!!) as well as a very good supporting turn by Danny Aiello.  Then there is Besson … arguably his finest movie, with such poetic, ice-cool camera work enhanced by an amazing soundtrack and moments of slick action executed with the utmost style and panache.  This may not be an action-heavy movie (it really only has two scenes here) but the tension that builds up, and the great performances throughout, peppered with well judged humour and such emotion … this is one of the few movies I would genuinely call a masterpiece.

This 20th Anniversary Edition by Studio Canal boasts a decent HD image quality that has some vibrant colour and good detail, especially in close-ups.  Softness rears its head in places but overall this is a very pleasing presentation.  For this movie too the 5.1 DTS Master Audio Soundtrack is excellent with a really immersive soundstage and great clarity throughout.  The Blu-ray houses both cuts of the movie and although I chose to watch the tighter Theatrical Version, I would recommend fans check out the extended Director’s Cut for such extra scenes like Mathilda’s Russian roulette scene, the extra hits that Leon takes Mathilda on and a few more moments of Mathilda’s inappropriate advances towards her hitman friend (!).  Extras however are poor, with just two interviews and a noticeably absent Besson, Oldman or Portman with no commentary, something Besson never does anyway – so no big shock there.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Thor: The Dark World


Viewed – 21 November 2013  Cinema

Big special effects blockbusters are an easy type of movie to like – they have plenty of action, larger than life characters and are usually a great deal of fun.  The onslaught of the comic book super hero has quickly become a genre of it’s own with such big hitters as the Iron Man series and Avengers Assemble being personal favourites.  Here we have the follow up to the highly entertaining Thor with beefcake Chris Hemsworth (Snow White and the Huntsman) reprising his role as the mighty Norse God, who comes to the aid of earth-bound scientist Natalie Portman when she becomes infected by a deadly virus known as the aether – an ancient weapon created by the Dark Elves centuries ago in an attempt to turn the various realms into permanent darkness. 

Thor-The-Dark-World

Of course this rather convoluted and throw-away plot is merely an excuse to watch Thor bash and hammer his foes and see buildings get demolished.  I liked how we get a lot more of Asgard this time around, even if Thor’s siblings are mostly forgotten about but for the boo-hiss of Loki, everyone’s favourite grinning villain (or is he?) from the first film and Avengers.  Yes he’s getting a bit over-used but Tom Hiddleston does a fine job, paring with Thor so well he pretty much stole the show for me.  Add to this a tired looking Anthony Hopkins returning as Odin, Thor’s dad, as well as appearances from Rene Russo (remember her?) and Idris Elba – making this easy to watch and get caught up in.

Less can be said for the mostly clichéd villain (with an unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston as lead baddie Malekith under the sort of makeup these kind of characters ALWAYS have).  Yet a large portion of the story being set in London was welcome, and the action and general banter between the characters decent – with some fun jokes and cameos along the way (was that Captain America?).  Ultimately though Thor 2 is a rather by-the-numbers sequel and lacks some of the heart of the original, bringing nothing new to what is already becoming very familiar territory.  But you’ll still find me in line for Thor 3.  Weird huh?

Verdict:  3 /5

2011 a look back – part one


Thought I would take a look back at the last twelve months on this blog and offer up a definitive review of the year.  It is going to be split into the four quarters of the year, and will conclude with my final Top Ten.  Hope you enjoy reading the following highlights and disappointments…

January – March

January kicked off somewhat underwhelming with Sci-fi horror Splice, which although entertaining, didn’t make for a particularly memorable movie overall.   That couldn’t be said of the gore & tits fest that was Piranha 3D, certainly one of the most immediately entertaining movies this year, even if it’s b-movie styling means some may pass it off as rubbish.  Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was another highlight, with its clever camera-work and comic book meets video game style, and as ever Michael Cera was a joy.   Disappointing was the Sylvester Stallone, Jason Stathan, Dolph Lundrgren testosterone orgy The Expendables, case of a great idea badly realized … Perhaps Stallone should have left directing honours to someone else?

Once we hit February however, one of the best movies was Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours; a stunning achievement in taking a true-life tale of survival and making it both powerful, gut-wrenching and funny, with a startling central performance from James Franco.  Then as if something was in the water as far as movie releases were concerned, we also got Black Swan, a heart breaking, chilling exploration of madness with a brilliant turn from Natalie Portman and top-class directing honours from Darren Aronofsky.   It was no surprise that Portman would then scoop Best Actress at the Oscars the same month.  Of course such a run of top-class movies couldn’t last long, and the enjoyable Paul starring the usually excellent Simon Pegg and Nick Frost crumbled slightly under its reliance on one gag … a funny smart-mouthed alien.  Thankfully February concluded nicely with the surprising The House Of The Devil, a great throw-back to 70’s occult horrors like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, and despite a low-budget, really delivered.

March seemed to be the month I (albeit briefly) got my kung-fu movie loving mojo back, and offered up two impressive examples namely Donny Yen starrers Ip Man & Ip Man 2, expertly and stylishly directed by Yen himself and both offering fascinating tales of a true-life martial arts master.   Animated comedy Despicable Me was a gem, and in my opinion outclassed Toy Story 3 for pure entertainment, and with a heart-warming story, really impressed.  Takers, a heist movie starring Hayden Christensen, Idris Elba and Paul Walker was a satisfying if unimaginative take on movies like Heat.  The Disappearance Of Alice Creed offered up a gritty brit-thriller with a brave, revealing turn from Gemma Arterton, and concluding March was Ozzy toungue-in-cheek horror The Loved Ones, offering up stalkers, unrequited love and cannibalistic ex-boyfriends!

…Stay tuned for my run down of the following three months soon.

Star Wars: Episode III


Viewed – 11 October 2011  Blu-ray

Revenge Of The Sith

It’s easy to see what many Star Wars fan boys have taken issue with in regards to the new trilogy.  The reliance on CGI and poor dialogue and misplaced ‘comedy’ has seemed to take away much of the mystique and grandeur of the saga they grew up loving.  George Lucas whilst a talented visualist, is not really the best director of actors, shown with such seasoned heavy weights like Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson and even Ewan McGregor coming across as hammy and wooden at times.  Yet much of these complaints can’t be levelled quite as easily at the concluding first half of this epic saga.  Lucas and his talented staff of effects wizards and production designers seem to have finally delivered the Star Wars movie fans have been waiting for.

With the Clone Wars in full swing, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are given a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpetine (Ian McDiarmid) from the clutches of Count Dookoo (Christopher Lee) and droid leader General Grievous.  Yet the rescue of Palpatine causes Anakin to question his faith in the Jedi council as Palpatine begins to manipulate him with regards to his secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman).  Anakin’s journey to the darkside looms ever nearer.

Darker in tone and with a more confident performance from Christensen, despite still delivering lines like a spoilt brat … there is something about this third entry that feels much more akin to the Star Wars movies of yesteryear.  Anakin’s journey to the darkside is well written and convincing, with very emotional support from Portman and McGregor hammering home the real intensity of the situation, making this feel more like a Shakespearian tragedy than a throwaway sci-fi blockbuster.  The encounters, which are plentiful and brilliantly realised build with intensity and at times the action really took my breath away, helped immeasurably by John Williams’ epic score and some of the finest special effects I have ever seen.

Lucas’ struggle with dialogue still rears its head, with some laughable lines (and a little too many ‘classic’ quotes), but overall this is streets ahead of Episode I & II, and although clearly rushed towards the end, comes together well to make the older movies, set some time after this, fit seamlessly.

The Blu-ray is gorgeous.  This is probably the best looking of the newer trilogy, with little of the soft-focus of episodes 1 & 2, and with a vibrant colour palette and a booming soundtrack, this should please any cinefile out there.  Again we have commentaries and a whole extra disk of documentaries and interviews, so again any fan should have nothing to grumble about.

Verdict:  4 /5