Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

 

*warning: this review will contain a number of spoilers, so please stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

It’s been just over 12 hours since I saw Annihilation and I still have an intense feeling of awe. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this film could be the 2001: A Space Odyssey for my generation, it has that exact same feeling of “I just saw something beautiful but it’s going to take  multiple viewings to better understand it.” Nevertheless, I believe I understand the gist of what director Alex Garland was trying to show us, so I’ll make my way as best I can.

Three years before our story begins, a meteorite crashed into a lighthouse inside a national park and immediately began emitting something dubbed the Shimmer. Imagine the iridescent surface of a bubble and combine it with endless flows and ripples. Now grow that bubble to gigantic proportions and you have a pretty good idea of what the border of the Shimmer looks like. Scientists have sent multiple teams in to explore this phenomenon, but no one has ever returned…until now.

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I should mention the proper story actually begins with Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier and professor in cellular biology, being debriefed in an isolation chamber after the story is already over (dialogue implies she is the lone survivor). Apparently, she was inside the Shimmer for 4 months, even though Lena can’t recall that much time passing. The story then flashes back and reveals her husband, Sgt. Kane (Oscar Isaac), has been missing for a year. It turns out he was part of the last team sent into the Shimmer. Out of nowhere, Kane appears outside the bedroom, but something is off about him. He doesn’t remember anything and he suddenly gets really sick. Lena and Kane are taken to the facility studying the Shimmer and while Kane falls into a coma, Lena decides to join the next team going in (all-female as it turns out) to see if there’s some way to reverse what’s happening to her husband.

The team consists of Lena, Anya Thorensen (a paramedic), Josie Radek (a physicist), Tuva Novotny as Cass Shepherd, a surveyor and geologist, and all are led by Dr. Ventress (a psychologist who secretly has cancer and wants to know the secret of the Shimmer before she dies). I need to stop and highlight Dr. Ventress for a moment because she’s the closest we come to a human antagonist in the entire story (and I’m still debating whether the Shimmer is an antagonist or not). From the moment you meet her, at least in my experience, you instantly start to hate her. There’s something unnatural in her behavior even before entering the Shimmer, I’d almost go so far as to say she was exhibiting sociopathic behavior.

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One great thing about this film is it doesn’t take too long to get to the action inside the Shimmer, but you should know that once the team is inside things get really weird really fast. For example, Lena wakes up in a tent, having no memory of making camp, and it turns out that somehow three or four days have passed and no one in the team remembers any of it. Then there’s the mutations: as Lena recounts, they start subtly. First they find strange new flowers that seem to be crossbreeds of different species (that shouldn’t be possible). Then Josie is attacked by a huge crocodile that has strange mutations in its teeth. Some of the mutations are beautiful: Lena comes across a pair of deer that have mutated into strange beings with flowering branches where their antlers should be, but some are absolutely terrifying. The hardest scene for me to get through was one where the group is twice attacked by a monstrous bear that somehow has part of its skull exposed. But that’s not the worst part of it: after attacking and killing Cass, it somehow absorbed part of Cass’ consciousness as she died (Josie speculates that the Shimmer is acting like a genetic prism that is causing the DNA of everything inside it to actively combine together) and now can use her final screams of help as a lure. What I mean is, every time the bear roars, you can hear Cass screaming and it was absolutely terrifying.

Of course, as in any horror film, one by one the team is picked off:

  • Cass is killed when her throat is ripped out by the bear
  • Anya is mauled to death by the same bear after suffering a psychotic episode
  • Josie’s fate is….interesting. After Cass and Anya die, Josie is seen sitting outside, seemingly at peace. As she tells Lena “She (Ventress) wants to face it (the Shimmer) and you want to fight it. But I don’t want either of those things.” And as Josie talks and walks away, she begins to sprout leaves and branches and suddenly disappears altogether. I think she transforms into one of the people-shaped flower growths that have begun appearing. And I don’t think she died either; if anything, I feel like Josie transcended into…something else.
  • Ventress makes it to the lighthouse before Lena, but something strange happens to her that I cannot adequately put into words (but I’ll address a theory I have when I wrap this up).

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Lena finally arrives at the lighthouse, ground zero of the Shimmer and discovers a strange growth surrounding a dark hole and also an incinerated body sitting in front of a video camera. And this is when things go beyond “this is weird” to “what the f*ck just happened??” Because, as the footage reveals, Lena’s husband went inside the Shimmer and committed suicide with a phosphorous grenade while talking to…a doppelganger. It’s one of those situations where your brain races like “If that’s Lena’s husband sitting dead on the floor, then who or WHAT is lying in a coma back at the base??”

 

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The next sequence is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but I simply can’t put it into words. I’ve tried several times and it simply doesn’t do the moment justice. Suffice it to say that Lena is confronted by her own double, or at least something that is morphing into her double. But just as it gain’s Lena’s face, the real Lena puts another phosphorous grenade into its hands and triggers it, running out the door as it goes off. This incinerates the root of the Shimmer and causes the entire phenomenon to collapse.

Apparently, the Shimmer was some kind of alien life, but Lena can’t say what it wanted, if indeed it wanted anything at all. All she wants is her husband (and it’s interesting that she apparently neglects to mention that the man now recovered from his coma is NOT her husband but an alien duplicate). “Kane” confirms to Lena that he is not her husband, but upon ascertaining that she is the one the real Kane told him about, he embraces her and then something strange happens: his eyes begin to shimmer with a certain familiar iridescence. And after a moment, Lena’s eyes “Shimmer” too. And that’s where the story ends!

What does it all mean? I believe, that even though the phenomenon has collapsed, the Shimmer is still here, it’s just internalized inside two people now. Just like a pair of cells. As Lena told a class at the beginning: two become four, become eight, become sixteen…I think this is only the beginning before the Shimmer spreads through humanity, though what it will ultimately do I cannot say (though if you have a theory I’d love to hear it in the comments below).

Now as to the fate of Ventress, here is my theory: I think Lena was talking to her double the entire time and here’s why: when we first see Ventress in the chamber, you can clearly see that she has no eyes, but when she turns to face Lena, she suddenly has them. When Lena’s double is being made, the last thing to emerge are the eyes. So I think the real Ventress died, was absorbed by the Shimmer and now her double is here, but it can’t sustain itself because of the cancer in the original Ventress. That’s my theory anyway.

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I wish I could explain certain parts better, but Annihilation is one of those films that needs to be experienced to be understood. Is it, as some say, too “intellectual”? Maybe…but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a movie that makes you think about what it’s trying to tell you.

One more brief note: in the middle of the film, there’s an extremely graphic scene involving some found footage (you’ll know when you come to it). I just wanted you to be aware that such a scene exists because it deeply disturbed me while I watched it.

Final thoughts: Annihilation is a brilliant film from Alex Garland and a must-see for fans of the science fiction genre.

What did you think of Annihilation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great day!

See also: Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

And for more film reviews: Live-Action Films/TV

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Soundtrack Review: Annihilation (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Annihilation is a science fiction horror film written and directed by Alex Garland in his second outing as a film director. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer and follows a group of military scientists who enter “the Shimmer,” a mysterious quarantined zone that is full of mutating landscapes and creatures. Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, , Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny and was released on February 23rd, 2018.

The soundtrack of Annihilation was scored by composing duo Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who previously worked with Alex Garland on the Academy Award winning film Ex Machina (2015). Ben Salisbury is an Emmy-nominated composer with over 100 film and television composing credits to his name, including Beyonce Knowles’ self-directed documentary feature Beyonce: Life Is But A Dream and the last 3 series of David Attenborough’s acclaimed Life Of… strand for the BBC. Geoff Barrow, known for his extensive body of work as a music producer and founding member of the band Portishead, first began his film music career as the music supervisor and original score writer for graffiti artist Banksy’s Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop. He recently worked on the band Arcade Fire’s latest album Everything Now in addition to producing a cover of ABBA’s “SOS” with Portishead for Ben Wheatley’s film adaption of High-Rise.

The first thing I noticed about this soundtrack is that it is clearly related to the music of Ex Machina. It is not identical, per se, but it clearly comes from the same tonal family as the previous film. I don’t say this as a bad thing, in fact, it’s not uncommon for multiple soundtracks from the same composer (or group of composers) to retain similarities across each film. I also think the resemblance has something to do with Annihilation being considered the “spiritual” successor to Ex Machina.

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That being said, if you liked Ex Machina and its soundtrack, then you will love the soundtrack for Annihilation. Like the soundtrack for Altered Carbon, most of the tracks contain the same elements: long synthesized tones, metallic wind chimes, and vocal tones. Despite the similarities, some of the tracks did stand out to me.

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“Shimmer Reveal” is only 38 seconds long but it catches the ear because it starts very soft and steadily grows in volume. As the volume increases, the melody “thickens” with a deeper synthesized tone. It feels like we start looking at a small picture which quickly expands into a panoramic landscape (in fact this is probably when we get our first in-depth look at the “shimmer” which can only be that mysterious thing that Natalie Portman’s character is seen walking into in the previews).

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“Abandoned Army Base” is half-mystical and half-sinister in the way it combines a synthesized drone with “creaking” metallic tones that sound like metal being ripped apart and metallic chimes that put me in mind of a monastery. Given that this is a science fiction horror film, I can only presume the sinister component I hear is due to someone or something hiding at this abandoned base, just waiting to snatch an unsuspecting victim (of course I could be wrong, but that’s what it sounds like). And going back to Ex Machina, this track in particular reminds me of Ava’s theme.

I have to bring attention to “In All of Us” simply because this track breaks the overall pattern and includes a melody from a guitar, which is so unexpected that it jars the ear when it arrives. “We Are Headed That Way” which follows that track, is interesting to me because of its title. Given the trailer’s hints that “the Shimmer” is causing a mutation of some kind, I wonder if this title refers to the idea that everything on Earth will eventually be affected by this mutation. Truthfully I can’t wait to find out what “the Shimmer” is actually doing, the visuals in the previews looked amazing.

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And those are my thoughts on the soundtrack for Annihilation. The soundtrack is currently available via Lakeshore Records and I hope you enjoy listening to it. My thanks to The Krakower Group for making this soundtrack available for review.

If you’ve seen Annihilation, what did you think of the film and its soundtrack? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, but please no spoilers, I’m seeing the film on Wednesday night 🙂

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My thoughts on: Annihilation (2018)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Alright, admit it: from the moment the prequel trilogy started, THIS is the movie you were waiting for. Everyone wanted to see Anakin make his final transformation into Darth Vader, and oh boy, did this film deliver!

This entire film is a giant climax of sorts, because there’s precious few moments when there isn’t some action of some kind going on. The tragic thing is, things start out so well for Anakin and secret wife Padme at the start of the film: Anakin returns to a hero’s welcome after saving the Chancellor (he also killed Count Dooku in cold blood but since Palpatine was the only witness, he doesn’t mention that part), he finds out Padme is pregnant AND, not long after, he’s informed by Palpatine that he wants him (Anakin) to be his representative on the Jedi Council.

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Anakin (in typically arrogant fashion) believes that this means he’s also being promoted to the rank of Master, since traditionally only Jedi Masters sit on the council, but while a seat is granted to him, his dreams of glory are shattered when the promotion is not given (even though Obi-Wan assures him that it will come soon enough). Anakin has been thoroughly manipulated by both sides (Jedi and Palpatine) at this point, and is growing increasingly tired of it. Palpatine is aware of this and uses Anakin’s frustration and growing mistrust to finally push him over the edge (where he’s been teetering ever since Attack of the Clones).

Palpatine’s gambit is impressive: he admits EVERYTHING to Anakin, that he’s a Sith Lord, that he knows about Padme being his wife and furthermore, that he can prevent her from dying in childbirth (Anakin has been having recurring dreams about Padme dying, similar to what happened right before his mother died).

Anakin draws his lightsaber and almost kills Palpatine on the spot (in fact, during this moment, I was practically begging Anakin to do exactly that, even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen), but he needs to do “the right thing” so he leaves to inform the Jedi, who try to arrest Palpatine, who kills them all (ultimately with Anakin’s help) and from this point on the Jedi are doomed/royally screwed.

Revenge of the Sith “The Jedi Purge”

But as agonizing as Anakin’s turn to the dark side is (that scene with the younglings in the temple KILLS me every time), it’s what comes after that is the real highlight of the film: Anakin and Obi-Wan’s final confrontation on Mustafar. There’s actually something of an urban legend regarding that final duel and the entire sequence in fact. The story goes that Steven Spielberg happened to be visiting the set that day and Lucas asked him, half-seriously, if he wanted to direct this scene. And allegedly, Spielberg accepted (without taking credit) and that’s supposedly why the entire Mustafar duel is so freaking awesome. I don’t know if it’s true (but I’d kind of like it to be).

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Revenge of the Sith “Battle of the Heroes” (2005)

The music for the Mustafar duel was dubbed “Battle of the Heroes” and is just amazing (Williams really outdid himself there). The moment when Obi-Wan finally realizes that there is no way to pull Anakin back from the dark side and that he MUST kill him, is just so heart-wrenching to watch. Of course, in the end, Anakin’s arrogance is what does him in. Even though Obi-Wan warns him that he (Obi-Wan) has the high ground (and therefore the advantage), Anakin leaps anyway and loses the rest of his natural limbs as a result. I still find the burning scene difficult to watch (I know people criticize Christensen’s performance, but I really think he nailed it here).

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And finally, I have to talk about that “transformation” scene when Anakin finally becomes recognizable as Darth Vader (in the armor and helmet). This scene, if you think about it, is really the lynch pin that ties the prequels into the original story. Everything that has happened has been slowly building up to this moment, and it’s really perfectly done.

Revenge of the Sith “Anakin becomes Darth Vader” (2005)

And quick question, did anyone else geek out just a little bit when the newly rebuilt Darth Vader spoke and it was James Earl Jones’ voice? That little detail also helped to tie things together, and was an excellent choice. Also, the birth of Padme’s twins answers the age-old question of whether Luke or Leia is older, and the answer is: Luke!!!

Revenge of the Sith is often called the best film in the prequel trilogy and I absolutely agree with that assessment. What did you think of the conclusion to the prequel trilogy? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

*film poster is the property of Walt Disney Studios

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

 

It was the film announcement heard ’round the world: George Lucas was returning to the realm of Star Wars to create a prequel trilogy to the original films. Given that this took place just before social media really took off (no Twitter, no Facebook, not even YouTube), excitement was at a fever pitch, with everyone speculating on how the origins of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and others would be shown.

I remember being over the moon excited about this. I’d always been jealous that my parents had gotten to see the original Star Wars movies in the theater, and now (as I saw it), here was my chance to see a new Star Wars film on the big screen, just like they did so many years ago.

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“What’s this?” “A local.”

The Phantom Menace (if I understand the timeline correctly), takes place just over 20 years before the Battle of Yavin (the climax of Episode IV). The Republic rules the galaxy, but corruption is starting to take over. While escorting the young Queen of Naboo (Natalie Portman) to the galactic capital Coruscant, Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) encounter an extremely Force-sensitive boy named Anakin Skywalker on the planet Tatooine (and he ultimately ends up leaving with them after helping the group secure the parts to fix their ship by winning a podrace). Ultimately, Naboo is saved from the vile Trade Federation, Anakin becomes Obi-Wan’s apprentice, and Senator Palpatine is now the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, all in all it sounds like a great story, but was it really?

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I still debate this question to myself from time to time. Considering that I was only 11 when I saw this film in the theater, I couldn’t understand for a long time why people didn’t like this film. My thinking was “It’s Star Wars, so it’s automatically awesome!” And yet, as time went on, I found myself preferring to watch the original trilogy over the prequels. What happened?

I don’t think there will ever be a universal consensus, but for The Phantom Menace there is one element that everyone agrees they hate: Jar Jar Binks. Of course *I* thought he was funny…until I grew up, and the humor got old after the 12th viewing. I know Jake Lloyd (the child actor who played Anakin) has received a lot of flak for his performance, but for goodness’ sake he was what, 9 years old? Given everything he had to work with, I think he did a great job in the role.

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Episode I: The Phantom Menace “Duel of the Fates” (1999)

Problems aside, the lightsaber duel (accompanied by “Duel of the Fates”) at the climax of the film was beyond awesome in my young eyes. Darth Maul was beyond terrifying, and it was really all well done. I remember gasping in horror when Qui-Gon got impaled too, I did NOT see it coming and I really wanted Qui-Gon to live. Looking back, the lightsaber duel between Maul, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan remains one of the few highlights in a film that hasn’t aged terribly well (especially where some of its CGI effects are concerned).

 

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It goes without saying that the rest of the score was equally as amazing (in seven movies there hasn’t been a bad Star Wars score yet and I don’t think there ever will be).

I think only time will tell how good (or bad) The Phantom Menace really was.

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

For more Star Wars see also:

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

*film poster is the property of Walt Disney Studios