Tag Archives: Oscar Isaac

Annihilation 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Benedict Wong,  Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson

Synopsis: U.S. army biologist Lena uncovers a deadly menace, her husband returns from the dead, and an expanding alien zone dubbed ‘the shimmer’ offers the only salvation for Lena’s returned but ailing husband. 

Visually striking, Annihilation has style but lacks originality. Adapted from the self-titled novel, Annihiliation’s bones originate in The Strugatsky Brothers’ ‘Roadside Picnic’. Both stories share an unknown alien zone and mysterious epicentre attracting the flawed and the outcast. Annihilation is an enjoyable but predictable two hour stint that retreads The Strutgatsky Brothers’ seminal novel. Annihilation has trappings of potential; the shimmer is an eloquently bleak depiction of a world devoid of man and the all-female expedition Lena joins hints at a deeper mystery. Yet Annihilation concedes uniqueness for comfort in its final act, peaked by an ambiguous ending that tramples over Lena’s arc. Worse still is that the shimmer is a strange plane, but its vibrancy denies Annihiliation of the insipid eerieness marking Roadside Picnic

Annihilation begins well: a slow-burn pace gradually introduces Lena, the shimmer and Lena’s crew, teasing out the audience’s intrigue. The all-female expedition accompanying Lena consists of brilliant actresses who match Natalie Portman. Tessa Thompson is the polar opposite of the brash Valkeryie she played in Thor: Ragnarok as introverted physicist Josie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is equally impressive as psychiatrist and mission administrator Dr. Ventress. Perceiving everything with detached indifference, Ventress is akin to an automaton, at times acting with bravery while her reactions can exude a menace matching ‘the shimmer’. Ventress’ ambivalent nature and Leigh’s performance steal the focus away from Natalie Portman’s Lena. Initially Lena is a decent protagonist, but the audience’s sympathy for her character is damaged by dream sequences that reveal her nastier side. Annihilation is indirectly narrated by Lena, who is shown in the future, having survived entering the shimmer. Lena’s confirmed existence before Annihilation even unfolds denies tangible investment into her character because no matter the bad things that befall her, the audience already knows that Lena’s fate is secure. The dreams negate Lena’s motivation for entering ‘the shimmer’, thereby flattening Lena’s character into something two-dimensional.  

Annihilation’s efforts to create complexity muddy aspects of the film which would have suited greater simplicity, such as Lena just being an easily relatable woman attempting to save her husband. The result is that Annihilation can feel too clever, with tid-bits sprinkled into the film with no explanation. Unlike Blade Runner whose twists and clues weave into the plot and hint at a deeper meaning, Annihilation is riddled with details left unanswered that feel like forgotten additions. Annihilation can be engrossing when it’s visual clues are developed but Alex Garland’s approach to them is scatter-brained. Annihilation’s plot is exacerbated by intermittently lazy writing. Key points are delivered by a supporting character just stating them in dialogue, with nothing appearing on screen to either convey or develop these ideas. The worst is when one of Lena’s crew simply states that every team member is flawed and then lists their problems. In the next hour nothing proves these flaws, none of the crew crack under the shimmer and turn to their demons for solace. 

There was an opportunity once the team entered the shimmer where Annihilation could have transcended into a great sci-fi film. Awaking in her tent Lena goes outside to find that everyone is unaware of  the past two weeks which have passed since crossing into the shimmer. In this scene, the shimmer was alive, a force that was toying with the team just like everyone else who had entered. Sadly this idea is never developed upon, with Annihilation relying on a few monsters and found footage instead of building up the shimmerThe film does scare but it never creates the haunting otherworldliness of Roadside Picnic.

Annihilation is still an enjoyable sci-fi flick, but in highsight it does not have the complexity that would make it eminently rewatchable like the genre’s greats. 

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Film Review with Spoilers]

Film Score: 2 out of 5 (Below Average)

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Benicio Del Toro, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, & Laura Dern

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Taking place directly after the events of The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi encompasses three story lines: the First Order who is attempting to vanquish the dwindling Resistance forces, the Resistance who is struggling for survival, and Rey who has located Luke Skywalker and is beseeching him to train her in the ways of the Force. All the major characters return from the The Force Awakens sans Han Solo (pour one out for the galaxy’s best smuggler). The Last Jedi runs for a two hours and a half making it the longest movie in the Star Wars saga. Sadly, that is not a good thing.

——————– Spoilers Ahead ——————–

 

 

 

Some people have praised Rian Johnson for taking Star Wars in a new direction. But I ask, did the movie even leave its docking station? The plot largely rotated around the First Order hunting down the Resistance’s remaining forces who were packed into three vessels that were running out of fuel. This meant that the Resistance could only stay outside of the First Order’s short range fighters (which for some reason did more damage to the Resistance fleet than the First Order armada’s heavy artillery? I think this was due to the fact that their TIE fighters could penetrate the Resistance’s shields?). This charade continued for two thirds of the movie. I kept wondering if the First Order lost the the plans to the Empire’s tractor beam technology. The Death Star sucked in the Millennium Falcon while the space station was so far away it appeared to be just a small moon. Even if the tractor beam wasn’t strong enough to pull in Leia’s smaller vessels, couldn’t Snoke’s flagship stall them? Or could the First Order not hail one of their dreadnoughts? Hyperspace jumps only take an hour or so. I realize I may appear to be arguing a trivial point, but THE ENTIRE MOVIE revolved around this chase. It bored me and removed “the fun” that so many people love in Star Wars films .

I longed for the scenes on Ahch-To, the planet where Luke hid for the entirety of The Force Awakens (TFA). On the planet, Luke slowly caves to Rey’s wishes to train her. This plot line held the most promise, yet turned out to be the most disappointing. In Rey’s first lesson in the Force, Luke asks her to feel it in all its vastness. Rey sees the Light side, the energy of the Force, every place it resides, and finally, she sees the Dark side. It reaches out to her and she immediately heeds its call. Her failure to resist its beckoning frightens Luke and it gave me hope this movie would not be a knock off of The Empire Strikes Back as TFA largely mimicked A New Hope. Rey going to the Dark side or at least testing the waters of the darkness with the possibility of Kylo turning to the Light would lead to new territory for Star Wars. However, this plot line never formed. Instead, when Rey journeyed to the place on the island where the Dark side resided it turned out to be an infinite mirror that failed (or refused?) to tempt Rey. That’s not the Dark side that existed in previous entries into the Star Wars canon. The Dark side always tempts. It makes Force-sensitive beings long for their darkest or most selfish desires. I also hoped (even though it would be a copy of Empire) that Rey would face a trial in Dark side pit like the test Luke faced in the cave on Dagobah.

luke v vaderYoda testing Luke in The Empire Strikes Back

There were many other aspects that irked me about The Last Jedi. I felt the concept of Leia surviving a proton torpedo, space, and then unconsciously Force pulling herself to safety was ridiculous and it looked even more silly watching it. The movie’s humor elicited laughter from me and everyone in the theater, but seconds after the laughter quieted, I realized it pulled away from the gravity of certain scenes. The one at the top of my mind was Poe’s “I’ll hold for Hux” that occurred at the outset of the movie. It subtracted from the fact that the diversion he was creating was saving the entire Resistance movement. I read one review that stated, “If the characters in the movie cannot take these life and death situations seriously, how is the audience supposed to?” I felt the film’s humor that also arose in TFA seemed more in the vein of a Marvel film. That’s not to say I disliked all the humor. I thought Chewie chowing down on a roasted porg as its former brethren looked on was fitting and hilarious (Yes, I liked the Porgs. No, they did not subtract from the film the way the Ewoks and Jar-Jar unhappily diverted my attention away from previous films’ plots.).

Snoke. Why did Johnson have to kill off Snoke so soon? I thought he was one of the more brilliant creations of J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan from TFA. He raised questions like who is he? How’d he find Kylo? How’d he come to become Supreme Leader of the First Order? What’s his role with the Knights of Ren? What happened to the Knights anyways? Some naysayers may counter that audiences seeing Return of the Jedi never got that satisfaction with Emperor Palpatine. Unlike Palpatine, learning more about Snoke would have driven the plot and helped me better understand Kylo’s motivations to turn to the Dark side. Sure, Snoke tempted him after he fled Luke’s Jedi academy, but how did Snoke learn Kylo’s heritage and make him want to succeed his grandfather? One of my friends pointed out to me that killing Snoke in this film will allow Kylo (a highly conflicted character) to lead the First Order, something never before seen in the Star Wars saga. I agree, this could potentially be an exciting point, but I still feel cheated by Snoke’s quick death.

Now, what I’m about to say next some will accuse me of heresy, but it needs to be said. One of the elements that was instrumental in making the original trilogy iconic was John Williams score. However, in this film, besides his old themes (i.e. Luke’s theme, the opening crawl, etc.) his songs started to sound generic. I don’t know if he’s getting too old or if he was as bored with the film as I was, but I found his newer themes lacking.

The moment where The Last Jedi truly lost me happened when Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) “saved” Finn as he was trying to sacrifice himself so the Resistance could escape the clutches of the First Order. After “saving him, she gave some speech that sounded ridiculous and is currently eluding me but roughly it was “We have to live otherwise our cause is for naught.”  If Luke hadn’t shown up, by saving Finn she would have handed over the remainder of the Resistance to the First Order, which undercuts her speech. In both scenarios someone was going to die, yet with her interference, she consigned her brethren to almost certain death.

The Last Jedi was not a total loss. I loved the fact that Johnson brought back Yoda (thankfully the non-CGI Yoda from Empire) and I thought the advice he gave Luke was timely. The Force tunnel between Rey and Kylo was a new use of the Force and allowed the two characters to bond and show some of their weaknesses. Thank god Adam Driver is in this film. He brings sympathy to Kylo’s struggle, showing the character’s turmoil to make the right choices in light of masters who betray him. The hyperspace attack by Laura Dern’s character Vice Admiral Holdo was visually stunning and gloriously captured. The pinnacle of the movie was Rey and Kylo’s lightsaber fight with Snoke’s Praetorian guard and Kylo’s decision to stay in the Dark side immediately after. I don’t think there has been a more kickass fight in the history of Star Wars.

Sadly, these elements were not enough for me to enjoy The Last Jedi. By the end, I felt like the Resistance: beaten down with a poor outlook on the future. To be completely honest, I don’t care what happens to any of these characters in Episode IX. The Last Jedi sucked the fun out of Star Wars. Hopefully, Solo will win me back. If you enjoyed the film more than me, and want to read a positive review, Saul thoroughly enjoyed it. You can read his review here.

By Hagood Grantham

For trailer, see below.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Official Trailer]

Ok. Wow. WHAT. Those were my first thoughts after I first watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s official trailer. It is chock full of twists or what the trailer editors made us die-hard fans believe are plot twists. In this post I want to put down my thoughts and theories about what some of these twists could be, and then both Saul and I would love to hear your theories.

  1. During Snoke’s voice over, I came to wonder who is he speaking to? His words were, “When I found you, I saw RAW, untamed power and beyond that, something truly special.” During his monologue, the trailer mainly displays footage of Kylo. However, as Snoke’s words are echoing away, Rey appears, igniting her saber. We know from later in the trailer that Snoke and Rey finally meet and it appears Snoke tries to break her through torture. Why couldn’t Snoke’s speech actually be directed at Rey? Maybe he’s making it as he’s attempting to make her feel special since she sounds lost and seeking guidance. If you’re thinking “Snoke could not have ‘found her,’ she was on Jakku and after that she went to the find Luke. When could he have ‘found her.'” I’d reply, who put Rey on Jakku? Where did Rey come from? Who are her parents? Maybe Snoke is her father or creator much as Palpatine was Anakin’s likely creator. Or possibly Snoke stole Rey from her real parents and placed her on Jakku till he was ready to tap into her power. I admit this theory is far-fetched, so if Snoke was indeed speaking to Kylo, it sounds like he’s dressing down Kylo in disappointment. For instance, “You [Kylo] were so great when I found you, so full of potential. And you’ve done nothing with it.” Could this be the origin of Kylo’s return to the Light side? Maybe Snoke is favoring Rey over Kylo and drives Kylo back to Luke and draws Rey to him.
  2. Rey pleads to Luke: “Something. Inside me has always been there. But now it’s awake. And I need help.” We all know the Force is unbelievably strong in Rey after she dominated Kylo at the end of The Force Awakens. I believe it was in this fight that Rey realized her full power and even the existence of the Dark side, since hatred can be seen on her face after the defeats Kylo. Luke also quickly realizes her power and appears to abandon her because he doesn’t want to unleash that power like he did with Ben/Kylo. The trailer shows us the price of that mistake: his temple decimated in flames and his padawans slain. If Luke does abandon Rey, this act would be doubly powerful because she already felt disowned by her parents after they left her on Jakku and she’s begging Luke for guidance as a potential father-figure. Maybe this is the motivation for her turning to Kylo and possibly Snoke.

screen-shot-2017-10-09-at-10-26-25-pm-e1507602636520

Luke realizing Rey’s full power and potential for both Good and Evil

3. Kylo’s words, “Let the past die. Kill it,” intrigued me. This voice over occurred as he was supposedly speeding towards Leia’s flagship with a payload of torpedoes to kill her. I say supposedly because there were so many cuts that it’s impossible to know if Leia was actually on the ship Kylo was targeting. I believe, this voice over, once again, could be aimed at someone else at a completely different moment in the movie. Who is Kylo talking to? Luke? Leia? Snoke? Rey? I’m wagering he’s talking to Rey and attempting to sway her to the Dark side. I’d be curious if he was talking to Snoke. If it were Snoke, which past does Kylo mean? His past with his parents, Han & Leia, his time with Luke at the temple, or his Dark side tutelage under Snoke with the Knights of Ren? If he’s talking about his time in the Light with Han, Leia, and Luke then that means he’s just continuing down the path of the Dark side after murdering his father in The Force Awakens. He probably is considering blowing up Leia if that’s the case. If he’s talking about his time as Snoke’s apprentice then he could be renouncing his Darkness and returning to the Light. Smashing his helmet could be Kylo’s rejection of his attempts to turn to the Dark side. However, this action could also portray his hatred for his grandfather, Vader, who he was trying to mimic with the helmet. Maybe Snoke told him he ended up turning to the Light as he was dying and this enraged Kylo so much that he wanted to kill his past. There is not enough information in the trailer for us to know which path Kylo chooses, and I applaud Disney for not giving us any more.

4. My favorite line from the trailer was Luke’s. He said it as he was on his back, speaking to someone above him. My guess is that it’s Rey who is about to leave Luke. He warns her, “This is not going to go the way you think.” This statement harkens back to The Empire Strikes Back when Luke left Dagobah to fight Vader in Cloud City and save his friends. Yoda and Obi-Wan both warn Luke he is not ready to face Vader. I think this line is Luke warning Rey that whatever “this” is, that she is ill-prepared. Maybe she’s going to face Kylo or maybe it’s Snoke. In Empire, Vader tried to tempt Luke to the Dark in Cloud City. Maybe whoever Rey faces will make the same attempt, but will Rey be strong enough to stay with the Light? The ending of the trailer gives a deafening no as Kylo extends his hand.

Star Wars poster

The new The Last Jedi poster released yesterday with the trailer

I will end there. Each time I rewatch the trailer another tid-bit or line catches my eye or ear. Frankly, there is too little information for any of us to draw definite conclusions about the plot or outcomes of The Last Jedi. I am so happy Disney, Lucasfilm, Rian Johnson, and Kathleen Kennedy refused to give us fans much more than this.

vf-benicio-del-toro-feaured

Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ

Personally, I still have plenty of questions. Like what did Snoke mean by “Fulfill your destiny.”? How does he know what Rey’s destiny is? Where was Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ? Where will Laura Dern’s character, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, fit in? What planet does the bad ass battle take place with the new AT-AT’s and the Mad Max land speeders? Why is Finn back in First Order fatigues? What is the spark that Poe is talking about? A trailer is supposed to raise such questions without providing answers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t hypothesize and make our own plots and theories. Saul and I would love to hear yours. Please leave them in the comments below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.

The Last Jedi [Teaser Trailer]

Outlook: Face-melting excitement

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, & Kelly Marie Tran

Last Jedi Poster.jpg

Hagood’s Review: 

To be perfectly honest, I cried when Rian Johnson introduced the trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi at Star Wars Celebration Orlando. I am beyond excited for this movie. But I must steel myself and try to be logical.  I was equally excited for The Force Awakens and after three viewings of it, I must admit, I’m a bit let down. Rogue One was a much stronger movie and I’m hoping that Kathleen Kennedy and Lucas Film have learned that Finn’s modern dialogue/humor and a hackneyed plot do not belong in the Star Wars universe.

Now, to the trailer. It begins during Rey’s training. The first shot shows her scared and out of breath with Luke’s voice telling her to breath. This harkens back to Luke’s training on Dagobah when he entered the cave to face his fear. I’m sure Luke will not take his training of Rey lightly, especially after losing all his former padawans to Kylo and his Knights of Ren. He’ll want to overly train her so she can survive another bout with the new Dark Lord. Also, during The Last Jedi panel, Mark Hamill mentioned that Daisy was his “dog” then he caught himself and said “companion,” which I’m sure means Luke puts Rey through hell.

I was quite fond of the shot of Rey standing above the sea pit during another training session and the next shot of her training with the lightsaber as Luke looks on. Kylo’s crushed and smoldering helmet is certainly intriguing. Why did Kylo destroy it? Does he feel he finally realize that he needs to forge his own path instead of trying to follow Vader’s? Was he even the one who destroyed it?

Also, what are in the Jedi scrolls Rey touches? How did Luke get them? Didn’t the Sith destroy them after they executed Order 66? I was happy to hear Rian Johnson say that The Last Jedi will uncover more of Rey’s backstory. That was another one of my qualms with The Force Awakens. It just stated stuff (i.e. Maz having Luke’s lightsaber) without backing things up. Some mystery is fine, but I hope this movie substantiates such plot holes.

There was a distinctly Mad Max-esque shot on a desert plain that seemed to have AT-AT’s in the distance fighting Alliance (?) land speeders. This match-up will hopefully best The Force Awakens land-air battle between The First Order and the Alliance on Maz Kanata’s planet of Takodana. I found that battle to be an unfulfilling tease due to a great set-up but poor payoff.

Another question that arose for me was the fire scene at the end. Was that a flashback to the Knights of Ren destroying Luke’s training academy or in the present? Thankfully Kylo is back (my favorite character) and he seemed to be in the present because you could see the scar on his face that Rey dealt him.

Finally, what does Luke mean by “It’s time for the Jedi to end?” Does he mean they need to evolve like the Sith did when they transformed into the Knights of Ren? Or does he mean something completely different?

I loved this trailer. This is how trailers are supposed to be made. It gave away no plot, but instead raised many questions without answering them. Kudos to Disney, Lucas Film, Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson. I cannot wait for The Last Jedi. 

Saul’s Review:

Given the striking opening to this trailer, The Last Jedi may be the best directed Star Wars film so far.

In the teaser trailer, we see the First Order retaliate following their loss of Starkiller Base, mirroring The Empire Strikes Back. Captain Phasma walks towards a burning settlement while a rebel base is attacked. Clearly the First Order are going to be a far more ubiquitous menance in this film, instead of threatening the galaxy via a doomsday weapon hidden on a remote planet. It would be interesting to see the First Order begin to take over more of the galaxy, and finally expand beyond the edges of space. Hopefully, we will not lose old man Luke Skywalker due to the First Order’s wrath.

I have two questions following the trailer. Firstly, what will Finn’s role be? He briefly appears in what seems to be a medical capsule, but no other information is given. More importantly, does Luke’s belief that the Jedi must end mean that he is now between the lightside and the darkside? If he is, what new order will emerge?

For the trailer, see below: