Film Review: “Annihilation”

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac
Directed By: Alex Garland
Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Paramount Pictures

I really wanted to like this movie. Despite a poor advertising campaign and some unimaginative trailers, I was optimistic that Alex Garland could make some magic out of nothing with “Annihilation.” The man been attached to some great films over the past couple of decades like “28 Days Later,” “Dredd,” and most importantly, “Ex Machina.” Whereas “Ex Machina” was sleek and smart, “Annihilation” is clunky and confusing.

It’s not that “Annihilation” is lacking in interesting concepts, it’s that they’re wrapped around predictable subplots and a ragbag of conflicting tones. The movie begins with an interesting sci-fi premise, an extraterrestrial phenomenon, called the Shimmer by the scientists investigating it, has been slowly enveloping the land around a coastal lighthouse for three years. The government has sent in several teams of soldiers into the Shimmer, only for them to never return. Except for one.

A confused Kane (Isaac) stumbles back into his home, into the loving embrace of his wife, Lena (Portman) who had assumed the worst after he went MIA. She knew nothing of his mission into the Shimmer and his mysterious return only brings her into the fray. In the hopes of learning more about the Shimmer, Lena joins an all-female team, which is heading into the Shimmer. What they encounter, is a bunch of red herrings, glazed over plot points and horror movie tropes.

Throughout “Annihilation,” I kept putting off these nagging issues with the script and structure of the story in the hopes that the ending would provide a worthy payoff to some of my frustration. Without giving away the ending, “Annihilation” seems content on ambiguity, but without any legitimate bread crumbs to lead viewers down one path or another. I have my own theories, but none of them feel as profound as the ones birthed from other sci-fi greats in the past few years like “Blade Runner 2049” or “Under the Skin.”

There’s also the trouble as to what kind of movie “Annihilation” wants to be. It begins as a sci-fi, but has elements of body terror, jump scares and clichés from average horror flicks that are slowly mixed in. A fear of the unknown comes with movies about aliens, but “Annihilation” is bad at developing tension because it forces its characters to have the minds of teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake. We watch this group in the Shimmer split up into groups, avoid taking the high ground in dangerous situations, and camp out for the night near corpses and other macabre scenes.

Even if “Annihilation” is bad, there’s something slightly noble about a bad movie that at least makes you think, and not just about the glaring plot holes. There are a couple of moments that are trying to speak volumes about our relation to nature and humanity’s destructiveness. However there’s no real follow-up to some of these burning ideas and questions that are raised. There’s really nothing left to ponder or chew on when you leave the theater. This might be one of the most disappointing aspects of “Annihilation.” It’s a beautifully shot film that hobbles from the start and then whimpers in its final moments.

“Manchester by the Sea” Dominates 4th Annual MediaMikes.com Awards

Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” led all films in the 4th Annual Media Mikes Awards, which are voted on by both readers and staff of the web site.

Besides being named the Best Film of 2016, “Manchester by the Sea” took home the awards for Best Actor, Casey Affleck, as well as Best Original Screenplay for Lonergan. It was also the only film to win multiple awards.

Best Actress went to Natalie Portman for her performance as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie.” Best Supporting Actor was Dev Patel for “Lion” while Viola Davis was selected as the year’s Best Supporting Actress for “Fences.”

Damien Chazelle was named the year’s Best Director for “La La Land” while “Zootopia” was chosen as the Best Animated Feature.

As in past years, over 3,000 entries were submitted by readers in seven categories, with the staff of Media Mikes choosing the winners in the Original and Adapted Screenplay, Original Musical Score and Documentary categories.

Below is a complete list of winners:

BEST FILM: Manchester by the Sea

BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman – Jackie

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Dev Patel – Lion

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis – Fences

BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle – La La Land

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Zootopia

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Jay Cocks and Martin Scorcese – Silence

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: OJ: Made in America

BEST ORIGINAL MUSICAL SCORE: Mark Mancina – Moana

Film Review: “Jackie”

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Billy Crudup
Directed by: Pablo Larrain
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

I am a Kennedy buff. Born in 1960, I was raised in a family that regarded the Kennedy family in the same way the British regard the Royal Family. I’m too young to remember JFK – though my father once wrote a poem where he noted that I was an angry child because one of my favorite kids programs had been preempted by a speech from the President. My mother woke me up in the wee hours of the morning when Bobby Kennedy was shot. As a 20 year old I worked for Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign. I’ve studied the family as much as I could. When Jacqueline Kennedy passed away in May 1994 a funny thought went through my mind. I had never heard her speak. Every time I saw footage of her, she was either running from the press or, earlier in her life, smiling quietly. It wasn’t until the era of YouTube, when a television special about the White House that Mrs. Kennedy hosted was uploaded, that I finally heard her speak. Soft and quiet, like the coo of a dove. And that is the voice that drives the new film “Jackie.”

“Jackie” is two very different looks at the former First Lady. First is the young, vibrant Jackie. Freshly moved into the White House, she has angered some in the country by remodeling. To show the people what she did, she agrees to host a television special, giving many in the country their first look inside “the people’s house.” The second look is that of an angry widow, just a week after the assassination of her husband, trying to figure out how to make sure her martyred husband’s legacy will live on. This is the more dramatic Jackie and this is where “Jackie” works best.

It’s been six years since Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Oscar for “Black Swan.” Since then, with the exception of a couple of Marvel movies she hasn’t really been showing up in mainstream films. Here she returns with a vengeance. She captures every facet of Jacqueline Kennedy. The smiling, laughing young woman and the embittered widow, refusing to change out of her clothes, stained with her husband’s blood, because she “wants them to see what they’ve done.” Again, it’s the second persona, one who agrees to speak with a reporter to describe her feelings and to conjure the image of Camelot, that holds your attention.

Portman is surrounded by a good supporting cast, including Greta Gerwig as White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman, Crudup as the reporter who knows all along that he will never be permitted to print most of his interview and Danish actor Caspar Phillipson, who bears an amazing resemblance to the late President Kennedy. Sarsgaard is adequate as RFK, but the fact that he doesn’t even attempt a New England accent is annoyingly noticeable.

But Portman is the story here. Go check her out before she disappears for another six years.