A biologist joins an expedition into a mysterious zone called The Shimmer, full of mutating landscapes and creatures that threaten whatever enters it.

Natalie Portman leads the cast of this ambitious sci-fi feature from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. This corner of the sci-fi genre is one of my favorite types of films because they’re often the most shocking and thought-provoking. i like to watch science fiction movies not just for excitement or satisfaction, but to be surprised and to think about what happened. Ex Machina was a smart cautionary tale about how scary a future with artificial intelligence may become, and Annihilation is much more complicated than just having a single theme like that. However, it’s a good thing that a movie is trying to be more intellectual, although Garland’s refusal to alter the film to make it more pleasing for mainstream viewers cost it its theatrical release overseas, so if you don’t live in North America you’ll only be able to see this on Netflix, which is unfortunate because this movie is a gorgeous theater experience. Portman is exceptionally deep as Lena, who leads a great cast along with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Oscar Isaac. The way Portman expresses her feelings such as fear, uncertainty, and agony serve the character very well, and also noteworthy is Isaac as her husband. Annihilation is what people may call classic sci-fi, as it does have the buildup, clues, and mystery until there’s a final twist reveal, but I personally don’t think I’ll ever get tired of these films because of how many questions they can raise and how puzzling they can be but still intrigue (like the bizarre but fascinating Cloverfield franchise). People can draw comparisons to Arrival, and I think that one is a far superior film to this because it doesn’t just talk about the sci-fi concept it introduces but also presents more layered themes about humanity that don’t just belong in science fiction, not that this one doesn’t have any of that. Annihilation definitely has a lot under the surface that I still have yet to discover but I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since I saw it and I remember sitting quite shocked in the theater as the credits rolled. Some of it doesn’t completely add up, including some subplots and details that weren’t fully realized but that doesn’t stop this from being a worthy experience. Don’t go in expecting anything because the story takes many unexpected turns and has some visually marvelous sequences, as well as a spectacular musical score, but though it has a horror scene here and there, don’t expect too many answers right away but a lot is left open-ended for the audiences that aren’t mistaking this for an Alien or Predator-style film.

Annihilation presents marvelous visuals and style, as well as questions that sci-fi fans will love to discuss, with Natalie Portman giving it her all, and though Alex Garland encountered some problems with the international release of this film, he has nothing to apologize for and should continue making smart and unique science fiction like this, because these are really the films we need to remind us how intriguing science fiction cinema can be.

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Black Panther


T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, rises to the throne in the isolated, technologically advanced African nation, but his claim is challenged by a vengeful outsider who believes the throne belongs to himself.

Marvel breaks ground once again with their first African superhero as the center of a film set in their cinematic universe. When Chadwick Boseman first played the role in Captain America: Civil War, I knew we should be getting a solo film for him soon, and he nails it once again as the fantastic protagonist of king T’Challa. We feel that he is conflicted about how ready he is for his new position but like those around him, would die for his country of Wakanda. We are immersed in the visually striking setting of Wakanda which is realized very well as not only a gorgeous setting, but as a country that must choose its position in the world. The rest of the cast is also outstanding, with more African Americans cast in big roles than any superhero film before. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger steps out of medicore Marvel villain territory and delivers a complexly portrayed and excellently motivated antagonist who’s a great counterpart to Boseman. His rage is brought on so well and we actually understand why he wants to fight our heroes, and his reasons aren’t too bad. I’d be damned if this isn’t one of the best villains modern superhero films has to offer. Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s ex-lover is also a well-written character who will stand by his side and help him out at all costs, and Danai Gurira as the ass-kicking Okoye steals some of the fights. We’ve also got the awesome presence of Oscar-nominated Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, and I’m seriously convinced this guy should be in every upcoming movie, and there’s the hilarious and memorable tribe leader M’Baku played by Winston Duke, who we definitely need more from soon, and who doesn’t love some charm from Martin Freeman? However, my favorite member of the supporting cast was Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, as she’s inventive, sweet, funny, and brings lots of light to her scenes. Every member of the cast is well-realized and I couldn’t ask more from the nuanced performances and great chemistry they all have.

Black Panther may be set in the biggest universe in cinematic history, but even though the enormous Infinity War team-up is only two months away, Black Panther remembers to be its own story, free of set-ups, teases, and big characters thrown in from other films (save for an awesome post-credits scene). There are no Infinity Stones or scenes that need to hint at what’s next for the Black Panther saga, instead we get a story that stays within its 2-hour length, allowing us to really explore the themes and character motivations without being reminded too much we’re watching a comic-book film. Vivid costumes, sets, and action make this visually pleasing, but we also dig deep into why everyone does what they’re doing, and what leaders must do to help others, not just when it concerns them. We get a well-directed and written action film thanks to Creed‘s Ryan Coogler but also how Black Panther himself takes steps to make the world a better place. A couple of scenes do dive into familiar territory, but by the end, Black Panther is a new kind of Marvel movie and a spirited hero for us all to love.

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure


In the final chapter of the Maze Runner trilogy, Thomas embarks on a mission to save his friend Minho from the sinister organization WCKD and find a cure for the deadly disease known as the Flare.

I enjoyed reading the Maze Runner books so when the films were announced, I was excited. Though I did enjoy the first film, the second one wasn’t very good and put the potential of this final film at risk. Though this did take much longer to release due to Dylan O’Brien’s injuries on set, the franchise has finally concluded, and though it’s often bland in its execution, it wraps things up pretty well. The cast that includes Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Giancarlo Esposito are quite good, but some of the writing, especially in the first half, is so forced it’s hard to care for the emotion they try to deliver. Too much time is spent discussing a disease and its cure and not enough about Thomas’ internal and external conflict which we cared so much about in the first film. It does recover from the mess of The Scorch Trials, which strode away from the main focus of the series and was too unevenly paced and unnecessarily crowded. This film knows which cast members to put in the center and which characters it doesn’t need, and it begins with a very entertaining action scene but then goes to the predictable “main character on a rogue mission to save the world” route. The dialogue feels either too rushed or too direct and cliche to care too much about, and though the action is quite fun, the character development is sometimes not in the right places. However, the second half does recover with a dramatic and thrilling final battle for the series, that hits the right emotional marks at the end and often keeps the viewer in their seat. As someone who is somewhat a fan of this series, I enjoyed this movie by the end and thought it was an improvement over the second one, but I wouldn’t defend it over the mixed reviews it’s getting because despite the entertaining action and cast, there isn’t much to love. It’s a serviceable conclusion to a series that wasn’t all that great but ends on a good note for the franchise. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll definitely have a lot of fun with this finale, but if you’re not a fan or haven’t seen the other films, don’t bother.



Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest installment in the most popular film franchise of all time, and I can’t tell you anything else about this one, because if you’re a huge fan like me and most of the world’s population, you don’t need a plot description to get you to go see it. This movie picks up right after The Force Awakens left off, and as soon as the movie begins, the return to the galaxy which the world has grown to love over the last 40 years feels intriguing from the first scene. Like its predecessor, The Last Jedi is completely unpredictable and this one is even more different than the last film.

The cast once again knocks it out of the park, from the original characters portrayed by Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, the returning characters from the previous sequel including Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac, and new additions to the universe played by Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Hamill is as terrific as he’s ever been as Luke Skywalker, the most beloved hero in the history of cinema. His performance and his character’s arc over the last forty years has been tremendous, and the addition to his arc here is an unexpected turn which Hamill portrays so well, as he expresses the loss of heroism and his giving up of hope after a mistake he made prior to the events of the trilogy. Fisher’s scenes are great as well, and her final film performance that was shot before her tragic death last year is poignant and the film does her justice, paying tribute to her like it should. If you loved Daisy Ridley as our new protagonist Rey, you won’t be disappointed in the path she takes in this movie, as her journey through the ways of the Force continues under Luke’s guidance. Ridley does a terrific job conveying the emotional conflict her character experiences and how she finds her place in the battle of good against evil. Driver is back as the menacing and superb antagonist of Kylo Ren, who is a complicated villain but perfectly developed, and experiences changes after he did something in the last movie that shocked us all. We root for the good guys and against him but we feel that he isn’t all-evil like his master Snoke, speaking of whom is very intimidating and well-acted by Andy Serkis. John Boyega as defected stormtrooper Finn is another one of my favorite members of the cast, and although the storyline he has with new character Rose isn’t as compelling as the rest of the film, Finn is still a character we enjoy going on an adventure with thanks to his great writing and acting from the awesome Boyega who had his breakout when he first played the character two years ago. Isaac as Poe Dameron has more to do this time around, and his clashes with authority and his morals are interesting to explore. Of course, expect appearances from your favorite creatures like the lovable wookie Chewbacca, droids such as C3P0, R2-D2, and BB-8, the adorable new birds from Luke’s planet known as the Porgs, and a shocking appearance from one of everyone’s favorite Star Wars characters.

As a middle installment that has the expectations as many set as high as Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi definitely reaches those standards for what has been set with The Force Awakens, which introduced us to this magnificent new setting within the universe we already love, and here we dive deeper into those characters and experience some dark twists and turns on the way. Many fan theories have been developed ever since everyone saw the first film in this new trilogy two years ago, but no theory was able to predict the events that happen in this movie. I loved J.J. Abrams’ direction of Episode VII, and although he will return for the last installment in the trilogy, this one is directed by Rian Johnson, who previously directed the high school mystery Brick and the sci-fi thriller Looper. Johnson does a very impressive job building on what’s already happened and bringing to life the new planets and settings. The cinematography is beautiful and so are the visual effects, capturing the memorable action scenes and sets magnificently, just like a Star Wars movie should. Reception from fans has been mixed, but I can’t see why. I was on the very edge of my seat for the entire movie, and stunned at what this had to offer. It’s risk-taking, unpredictable, and deprived of the familiar 3-act story structure, making it even more suspenseful, and it’s got plenty of originality for the eighth film in a franchise. It holds onto what people have loved about the series since 1977, but it still has room for lots of creativity and trust me, I was quite shocked by what happened in this film. It’s not the cheerful blockbuster that most big studio sequels are nowadays, but it’s a dark, thrilling epic that will have everyone, Star Wars fan or not, cheering throughout.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the movie everyone will be going crazy about, and whether or not you like these films, you really should see the definitive blockbuster of the year. As an enormous fan of the series, I was not let down by the amazement I got here. Star Wars has brought people together all around the world since the first film was released 40 years ago, and this movie brings back what fans have loved since then but also lots of surprises. Although a few minor moments/plot points were weaker than others, the cast, visuals, story, writing, and emotion redeem the film, and at best this is an epic and marvelous sequel that is strong with the force.

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Justice League


Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

The DC Extended Universe has been on a bumpy road lately, because even though I liked Man of Steel, the films that followed, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, placed this franchise in a dark state. This year, Wonder Woman helped many regain some faith in the franchise, and although I did enjoy that movie, I was very skeptical about this one. Zack Snyder returns from the previous films to direct his third film in the franchise. However, he was replaced by Joss Whedon after leaving the post-production process to cope with the tragic death of his daughter. Although I was sad for Snyder and curious about a new style that could improve on what we’ve seen before, I was afraid the end result would be extremely inconsistent. Although as a movie, the director changes aren’t too noticeable, at times this feels like the slo-mo infested Zack Snyder movies he originally shot, and other times it’s trying to be a funny and light-hearted Marvel movie. Batman v Superman was dark and slow, and although Snyder’s directing is clealry shown here, the tone is definitely tweaked and improved for the future of DC. He should have understood we don’t need a gloomy, boring, overly dramtic/metaphorical film with no emotional payoff, when you can spend more time focusing on the great superhero characters you have. Justice League feels different from the rest of the DCEU in tone and mood, but also from the new boundaries Wonder Woman set, which is unfortunate, but I was still able to have a fun time, despite a $300 million budget that still couldn’t make good CGI and a rushed, formulaic, and uneven script.

Ben Affleck once again leads the cast as the charismatic Batman, and Gal Gadot is once again fantastic and steals the screen, although the script is too reliant on the events of her solo movie to have her character arc work, and emotionally she isn’t given anything new to work with. Ezra Miller is hilarious and perfectly cast as The Flash, with a well-established backstory and great writing and humor. However, the other two new characters, Aquaman and Cyborg, are underdeveloped and given no reason for us to care about them. The writing for their characters is occasionally humorous and effective, but we can’t get invested into them too much besides Wonder Woman, even Batman fell flat from a character development stance at most times. We should have gotten standalone movies for these three characters before they all teamed up, this culmination was too rushed and hardly set up. The reason The Avengers and Marvel’s new Netflix miniseries The Defenders felt so anticipated and great were because we had already met these characters individually, and the studio took their time to get us excited when they finally interacted and had great chemistry. Here, the characters we’ve already been introduced to have already all fought together and the rest are new to the game. If DC had waited to set up great universes and backstories for all six of the League members instead of only three, we would have gotten something even more exciting and satisfying. The chemistry between the entire team was also something I hope a lot more from, the had no time to make the team feel like a real team and interact with fun banter like the Marvel teams I mentioned, instead the team’s chemistry feels absent and rushed past.cDC has done a terrible job with their villains, such as Doomsday, Enchantress, and most recently, the dull and horrible Ares, but Steppenwolf is on a whole new level of awful. His CGI is video-game quality and his motive and posing of a threat are nonexistent. There are also some underused characters (I was excited to see J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, only for him to appear in two brief scenes), and lots of plots that are set up and go nowhere or only feel around for a short while.

The DC Extended Universe has been a huge mess, and although Justice League is a step in the right direction, it’s not as impressive as many would hope. I didn’t expect much form the movie, but the changes in tone are mostly for the better. The shorter 120-minute runtime is justified and the story feels rushed, as a plot conflict is introduced then immediately dealt with in the next scene, and although there are fun action scenes, including one taking place at Wonder Woman’s home island of Themyscira, the stakes never feel there, and the overly used slow motion from Snyder and the moral dialogue from writer Chris Terio don’t blend in well with the lighter style Joss Whedon was hoping to bring. Although I was even able to enjoy some uses of Snyder’s signature style, this feels the least like a Snyder movie like all of his films which relieved me since his style in Batman v Superman wasn’t used very well. There are scenes in which characters discuss conflicts and the ideals behind the events of the previous films, and then the comedic moments come by and that’s when it starts to not blend in. I liked the lighter, more Marvel-esque tone it was going for and it should have stuck with that. Also, a certain character’s return makes for a fun scene but definitely weakens the plot later on. When all the action ends, nothing felt emotionally satisfying or triumphant, as most of it is predictable and formulaic, and I couldn’t have cared less about the post-credits setup for who knows how many sequels. Although Wonder Woman brought this new DC universe in a much smarter direction, Justice League blends in the directing and writing styles from previous films with the positive humor and fun that fans like us were hoping for, and although this makes for an uneven and predictable plot with some fun moments and a better tone and direction than previous DC films, it ultimately isn’t a must watch unless you absolutely love these characters and the comics.

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Thor: Ragnarok


Two years after he helped the Avengers fight Ultron, Thor has returned to Asgard, only to find a new threat who wants to bring an end to Asgard, and he wounds up on the planet Sakaar with his old friend the Hulk and his adopted brother Loki, so he must now fight his way back in order to return to Asgard and protect it from the powerful enemy who seeks to destroy it.

Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered some of the decade’s greatest blockbusters, their Thor movies are the weakest in the franchise, despite Chris Hemsworth’s great performance as the titular character. This one, however, with much more humor, colorful sets and visuals, and a creative style offered by director Taika Waititi, is able to deliver as an entertaining Marvel film that many hoped for, but also a very smart, funny, and pleasing one. The first two Thor films, although watchable and sometimes fun, didn’t have as much depth and feeling as it could have, as Thor is a great character that can be done a lot with, but Waititi is able to grasp onto what we love about Thor, and boast it with an incredible amount of humor, gorgeous set pieces and visual backdrops, and a lot of heart as well. The return of Hemsworth, Hiddleston as Loki, and Mark Ruffalo as the tough and angry but lovable hero we know as the incredible Hulk, are very satisfying, especially Ruffalo, as he isn’t the main character but he is given plenty of time for us to enjoy his time on screen and set up a character arc that will hopefully be explored more in the next films, Ruffalo and Hemsworth once again have great chemistry, and it’s awesome to once again see the team-up of two main Avengers in one of their solo films, after we saw Captain America join forces with Black Widow in The Winter Soldier. In addition to these returning characters, we also get some great new characters, including Jeff Goldblum is the hilarious, charming dictator of the planet Sakaar, known only as The Grandmaster, Creed‘s breakout star Tessa Thompson as a complex and ass-kicking warrior named Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Asgardian warrior Skurge, and Cate Blanchett as the ruthless villain Hela, who are all great as well, and not to mention a funny motion-capture character named Korg played by director Waititi himself. The cast has plenty to offer, as well as some expected and unexpected cameos, but that’s not all that makes Ragnarok such impressive fun.

There are lots of callbacks to the other Marvel films and the popular comic book storylines in this movie, but that’s not all that will please fans. There is plenty of clever humor, and you can tell the director just wanted to poke fun at a lot of it in many scenes. Apparently, 80% of the movie’s dialogue was improvised, and this style of directing made it seem like the cast and everyone else involved had so much fun making the movie, and I sure bet they did. I’m glad that they chose to make this film a comedy, but in some scenes the humor overstayed its welcome in parts where it felt like it was time to resume the plot, and it takes too much time for those specific scenes to leave the goofy, humorous parts, but most of the humor did turn out to be effective. The characters also get some good arcs and development, although some things are left unexplained that I really hoped the movie would address, such as how Loki survived the events of the previous Thor movie. Although lots of the ambition does pay off both visually and story-wise, this didn’t feel like a groundbreaking movie in terms of Marvel films. Last year, Civil War completely ditched the classic formula that was used in the past MCU films and instead we got a dark and complex story that was completely unpredictable. Although the movies Marvel has released this year (like this one) don’t really follow the established formula too much anymore, and I wasn’t expecting something extremely unexpected from this one, the past films we saw from Marvel this year both had something new to offer. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had a fantastic message about family that was delivered wonderfully and made it feel more heartfelt and meaningful than most the other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s themes about adolescence made it also feel different and rather a coming-of-age film than the familiar movie about self-discovery and powers. In Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel pretty much shoots for the same things: lots of humor, cool action and visuals, and lots of comic book references and characters/appearances. The directing and style make it feel very exciting and light-hearted, and this movie definitely put a smile on my face, but Marvel didn’t really offer much that was new or unanticipated with the substance and overall product of this movie. What did take me by surprise was how much has changed by the end of the film. Unlike most superhero films, Ragnarok involves sacrifices with real consequences being made, and our hero has lost some important things to him by the end, which makes his journey to the next Avengers film even more exciting. We’ll just have to see how it’ll go for him this May, when we get the big team-up we’ve all been waiting for: Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t one of the best Marvel movies out there, but it’s certainly a blast to watch. The creative style, great cast and visuals, and entertainment level make this one a worthy watch in theaters, and you will definitely be satisfied with the final part of Thor’s individual journey, until he will once again team up with the Avengers next May in Infinity War. Until then, the hilarious, colorful, and awesome fun this movie has to offer will be enough to make you cheer this franchise on.

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Blade Runner 2049


In the highly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) discovers a secret that leads him to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who disappeared 30 years earlier.

Blade Runner is a film that’s influenced many sci-fi films and blockbusters to come, and is definitely a very visually beautiful film, although not one of my favorites. I was very excited for this film because Denis Villeneuve has never disappointed with his previous films, including Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and especially Arrival, and I could even call him one of the greatest directors of our time. Although the trailer may mislead you to think that this one’s more of an action movie than before, it’s actually as slow-paced and short on action as the previous film, so don’t be fooled. Thankfully, there’s a very intriguing story, impeccable directing, cinematography and visuals, and great acting. Ryan Gosling plays a leading role who acts more than he speaks, and knowing anything about his character beforehand would spoil the story. His movements, expressions, and interactions with every character make this one of his best performances in recent memory. Although it takes a while for Harrison Ford to make his grand entrance into the movie, it’s gladly pleasing to see him kick ass on screen once again, and it’s great to see that he’s still as good as Deckard as he was back in the ’80s. The rest of the cast, most notably Ana de Armas (who you may remember in a big role from last year’s War Dogs, and here she’s in a brilliant and very impressive role), is terrific as well, also including Robin Wright and Dave Bautista in great supporting roles. However, one performance really bothered me, which was that of Jared Leto. I think he’s a great actor but his acting here was too eccentric and over-the-top, and it felt very annoying, so I’m glad that his character had minimal screen-time in the movie.

I’m surprised that a movie like this was released in 2017, and it’s as big of a deal as it was when Blade Runner came out in 1982, because nowadays every film with so much CGI and hugely billed actors has constant action scenes and familiar cliches, so it’s refreshing to see that this one, like its predecessor, is rather a mystery drama than an action film. Ridley Scott did not have to worry when the sequel to his film is in the hands of Villeneuve, because if you’re familiar with his filmography, you know that nothing can go wrong when he’s in the director’s chair. Every shot is one that can be framed and Roger Deakins, who has already been nominated for 13 Oscars in his career, delivers possibly his best work here. The CGI is Oscar-worthy as well, and it blends in perfectly with the realistic effects in the movie. The music takes plenty of inspiration from the last film, and is done very beautifully thanks to the master Hans Zimmer, and his score for this movie is probably his best since Interstellar. All the technical elements blend in to make every scene intense and unpredictable. The story is more complex than the original and the movie feels like a puzzle as the runtime goes by. The movie is very long, running at almost three hours, but it grips onto your attention in every scene from the very first shot until the last. Some plot points are introduced and then later things are said or implied to contradict what you learned earlier, and then later it’s unanswered what is true or how exactly it worked, but I bet some of these plot points were left open-ended purposely. If you liked the first Blade Runner, you’ll definitely have a great time with this spellbinding, daring, extraordinary sci-fi movie, but if you didn’t, then you might not enjoy this one, as it’s longer and more complicated, but in my opinion, even better than the original. There is not a lot of action, so if you want an action-packed movie I’d recommend you see Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but this is the rare sci-fi feature we get every year that aspires for more, and leaves you thinking a lot, like InterstellarEx Machina, and Villeneuve’s own Arrival. He has made another magnificent feature that’s definitely one of the best of the year. There is occasional violence, language, and nudity, so I don’t recommend it for audiences under 15, but older and more patient viewers should definitely see this fulfilling sequel on the big screen.

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