Sunday, April 15, 2018

What I Watched in March

ANNIHILATION (2018) is an amazing breathe of fresh air in these days of tent-pole science fiction films. Operating at the opposite stylistic end of most modern cinema SF that vies for mass attention every year this film is a calmly, deliberately told tale of mysterious alien contact. Telling the frighteningly plausible tale of a slowly expanding extraterrestrial effect that may destroy the North American continent and the world, we accompany a team into the influenced area. Once inside people are subject to odd mental and physical consequence of the alien power spreading across the land as thy push toward the coast to reach the original point of contact. Along the way they discover strangely altered animals, dangerous plant life and the remnants of earlier teams. Each of these encounters makes them doubt their ability to carry on, doubt themselves and wonder if the possible answer waiting for them might be beyond their capacity to understand.

Adapted from a novel by Jeff VanderMeer by director Alex Garland (EX MACHINA) the film channels Tarkovsky's classics SOLARIS (1972) and STALKER (1979) but finds a new way to get to the same questions. This tale's answers are surprising as well with the main character's motivations twisting in an interesting direction by the third act. This is not a perfect film but it is thoughtful, intelligent speculative fiction that stands well beside ARRIVAL (2016) proving that cerebral science fiction filmmaking isn't dead yet, even if it only shows its head on rare occasions.

At the other end of current cinema science fiction we have a film that is built around giant robots beating the crap out of each other.

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018) should not have been as enjoyable as it turned out to be. As a sequel it should be a weaker version of the original movie running the surviving characters through their paces while introducing some cardboard new faces to take the place of the hearty souls that perished in the last story. So, how did this movie manage to surprise me? It refuses to copy and paste the first film. Yes, it brings the next generation of Jeager controllers on board giving us the fresh, young faces to pilot the robots but it makes a couple of sharp turns with the new characters. The story has advanced ten years so the holdovers are the same but different. In fact, some of the changes to them are both logical and horrible turning the third act of this story in an interesting direction. I won't spoil things but I was impressed with how this continuation grows the storyline in smart ways giving the Pacific Rim title an even more understood importance. And they did it all without subverting the victory of the first movie! I love it.

What anyone would fear from a film of this type is that it will descend to the crap level of the useless Transformers franchise where nothing matters except spectacle and explosions. But, if anything, this movie made the returning characters richer and the new people are well drawn and easily relatable. This bodes well for any future sequels and i hope we get them.


ANNIHILATION (2018) - 8 
NAKED...YOU DIE (1969) - 7 (rewatch)
MY FORBIDDEN PAST (1951) - 7 (New Orleans drama with Mitchum)
DARK HARVEST (1992) - 2 (shot on video mess)
THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR (2017) - 4 (no budget fantasy tries hard)
THE SAGA OF HEMP BROWN (1958) - 6 (standard western made good by cast)
DIMENSION 5 (1966) - 3 (terrible, cheap SF spy tale)
THE MYSTERIOUS MAGICIAN (1964) - 7 (a.k.a. DER HEXER - fun krimi)
THE SCARLET CLAW (1944) - 7 (rewatch) (creepy Sherlock tale)
LIFE (2017) - 7 (good ALIEN clone)
DAUGHTER OF DRACULA (1972) -6 (Jess Franco vampire film)
NIGHT SCHOOL (1981) - 6 (not bad slasher)
CRY WOLF (1947) - 7 (Flynn & Stanwyck in mystery melodrama)
ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO (1967) - 7 (solid western with Peppard and Dean Martin)
ISLAND CLAWS (1980)- 5 (well done but let down by FX) 
THE NICE GUYS (2015) - 8  (rewatch)


Nick Rentz said...

Which is better Island Claws or Attack of the Crab Monsters?

Rod Barnett said...

For me its Attack of the Crab Monsters. It gets by on kitsch, black & white photography, a wild telepathic idea and brevity.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

What? No Black Panther?

Rod Barnett said...

Saw Black Panther in February! And loved it.