Annihilation

The furor around streaming versus big screen is an interesting one – everyone has an opinion on it. Personally I feel that if the director’s intention (as was the case here) was for the film to be seen on the big screen then that is where the film should debut. If I had the power (and in another part of The Spac Hole I do) I would want every film to debut in Cinema. Hell, I would want to watch every TV show on the big screen too – the quality of television these days almost demands that shows with spectacle such as GOT and TWD should be seen with a crowd on a massive screen. However, the world is continuing to move away from such things – films are now becoming available on smaller and smaller screens, in more and more portable ways, and are becoming both more personal and less engaged experiences. Personal in that you can sit watching with headphones in bed or on the train or on the trap with no-one else annoying you, but less engaged in that you’re more likely to watch the movie in short bursts instead of a single sitting – something which I can’t stand but freely admit to doing more and more.

Annihilation is the latest film from Alex Garland – riding high after Ex Machina – with this film being another intelligent entry into a new wave of sci-fi movies. Based on the story of the same name (nope, haven’t read it) it follows an all-women group of scientists and soldiers as they venture into a wavering phenomenon which has arrived in the USA and has been growing steadily. This shimmer, as they call it, appeared three years ago, and all attempts to investigate successfully have failed – recording equipment yields no results, data is cursory, and any people who have gone into it have never returned. That is until one solider, Kane, returns home after having entered the shimmer a year earlier, although he has no memory of his lost time and is disoriented and sick. His wife, played by Natalie Portman, joins the all female team to enter the shimmer and find some answers once and for all.

I haven’t read many reviews of the film so far, but I imagine comparisons to 2001 will be frequently made. The film is a journey of body and mind – not quite the action epic I was anticipating when I first heard about it. There is action, but this is more akin to something like Moon than Aliens. There are meditations on guilt, depression, hope, and a lot of digestible science to chew on, though it might take multiple viewings to fully swallow and appreciate. The visuals are often stunning and the performances are uniformly strong, albeit mostly on the samey side – almost every character seems to be in a malaise of some sort and it’s really only Portman and Leigh’s characters how generate and depth or feeling. On a visual level it’s undoubtedly a success, from a thematic and philosophical perspective I imagine it will have more supporters than detractors, while on an emotional level the coldness left me… cold. The struggles near the end reminded me of the similar struggles for survival of Gravity but didn’t affect me on as personal a level. Another watch might make me think differently, but at this point in time it’s not a film I feel that I need to see again.

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Leon

*Updated version of review from 2003

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A  film which blends genres and emotions, Leon became one of the the most highly rated and loved cult hits of the 90s, thanks in no small part to the talented cast and director. Luc Besson’s film concerns a quiet and solitary hit-man who befriends a young girl after her family is slaughtered by a local crooked cop. Jean Reno stars as Leon, in his best performance, the professional hit-man with 100% success rate, solitary yet lonely. Gary Oldman is the crooked cop, stealing almost every scene he is in while Natalie Portman plays Mathilda, in one of the best child performances ever, conveying sadness and loneliness with hope and innocence, and anger and pain.

We are introduced to Leon, we see his mundane life, occasionally interspersed with acts of violence necessary for his career. His only friend is a pot plant, though he does have a relationship with his boss – a man who has a lot of respect for Leon, yet exploits him regardless. He lives alone in a flat. A few doors down is Mathilda who lives with her abusive father, alcoholic mother, and innocent younger brother. They have seen each other occasionally in the corridor. Mathilda’s father is in trouble with Oldman’s character, and he is killed along with his wife and son when Mathilda is shopping. She arrives home in the middle of the massacre, but saves herself by pleading that Leon lets her in. Leon’s life is turned upside down, torn between knowing he shouldn’t interfere but can’t let an innocent get hurt. Soon the two strike up an interesting friendship, each learning from the other and quickly becoming dependent on one another.

The film’s direction is often beautiful, and it complements the story perfectly, meaning that the tear-jerking scenes, action scenes, and everything else are all the more potent. Although the action is brilliant, it is the scenes between Leon and Mathilda which linger in the memory and raise the film into the top tier. There are many funny parts, most involving the fact that Leon has been outside of society for his entire life. Many critics mention a potential sexual relationship between the two, admittedly this could have occurred in the future, but by the end the most important thing is that they have found a special person who can give them hope. Although this is growing and reaching a wider audience it is still relatively little known, but it is a startling film which everyone should see.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Leon/The Professional!