Annihilation

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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.

A woman armed large gun, backed by four others, enters a heavily forested area

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Black Panther

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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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The 2018 Golden Slice Awards

Every year, I hold an Oscar-like awards ceremony to see what my Instagram followers’ favorite films of the year were. This year, I had many categories and many people who voted, so thank you to all my followers who participated. Usually I post the winners here, but this year I’m trying something new — a YouTube video! This is my first video in a long time, and it won’t be the last. If you want to find out the winners of this year’s Golden Slice Awards, please check out my video below, and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel!

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

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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.

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The Greatest Showman

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The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, and is loosely based on the true story of how he rose from rags to riches by founding a circus that ended up running for nearly 150 years. Jackman has proven talent and range in his career, from 17 years as Wolverine, to impressive and deep performances in films like Prisoners and The Prestige. Here he finds himself another suiting role as Barnum, the showman who inspired those who were different to be proud of themselves and brought joy to many watchers with his entertainment. Jackman not only brings charm and confidence to this role, but can also sing well. Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife, Zac Efron as his newly-found business partner, and Zendaya as a trapeze artist are all delightful too, despite some wasted supporting roles like Rebecca Ferguson’s character. The Greatest Showman will definitely appeal to fans of musicals and younger audiences, with very entertaining songs written by Oscars winners Pasek and Paul, which are fun and the best parts of the film. In addition to that, there’s a charming story about family, love, embracing those who are different, never giving up and bringing happiness to others. However, we’ve seen it all before and it’s not hard to predict where everything will go. The story of a character with nothing but a bold idea who convinces himself and others to never give up on their dreams has been explored many times before, and as a family film you can’t expect it to take many unexpected turns, but many times has this plot been shown and it’s not done very differently here to make the story stand out from others. Even the recent film The Disaster Artist was able to deliver this story in a way that felt creative and unique. Some of the plot elements feel heavily fictionalized to follow this family-friendly story, and I wish it had stuck true to the real events, which I’m not familiar with but I bet would have made a much deeper and resonating story and not just a fun one. Like I said before, Jackman is great as Barnum, but we never explore his inner self other than his love for his family and show business which has come out of nowhere. We don’t feel any conflict in him, only the positive decisions and emotions, which I understand as it’s a kid’s movie, but even younger audiences could learn a little more from him. I wouldn’t push audiences away from this film, as everyone in my theater clapped in the end and even I had quite a fun time watching it. However, I wish it had aimed for more than the cliche plot and themes and gone for something more daring.

The Greatest Showman will definitely please families with its entertaining musical numbers and cast, and has some familiar but sweet themes for kids and sequences that parents will enjoy watching with their children. I had a delightful time myself watching this one, and I would overall recommend it for families to go and watch. If only this had something for adults to grip onto and remember as well, and not just bring their kids to see.

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Phantom Thread

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Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

I’ve always been a big fan of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, so I was glad to hear when this film was announced, as his previous collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent and even got Day-Lewis an Oscar. He is definitely one of the greatest actors of our time and it’s unfortunate that he recently decided to retire from the profession, but this is a very impressive film and a great sendoff for his career, with a superb final performance from him. He completely dominates every scene with his clever but quietly terrifying and greedy protagonist, a well-written character by the name of Reynolds Woodcock. Woodcock is a fashion designer who is too caught into his work sometimes to care about others and demands to stay in his routine, but his lover in the film finds a soft spot in him as they fall in love. The actress who plays his lover Alma is also very good and has great chemistry with the lead, and their relationship is the center of the film. It’s a dark and twisted love tale in a way but also deep and tense, but Anderson knows how to make us care for this relationship overall. Astounding production and cinematography can be noted throughout, but one of the best technical aspects of the film is the beautiful music which fills every scene artistically. This is a very different film than most, like all Anderson’s films are. He makes movies that don’t fit in certain genres, but films about people and the traits that construct them. Phantom Thread is a great example of what he can do, and this genius director hasn’t lost his steam since the ’90s. It’s occasionally slow, but at best it’s gripping and done like something not many other filmmakers would create. The ending is something I have to think about as well, as though I haven’t grasped the complete meaning of it, it will probably grow on me over time. Phantom Thread is not for everyone, but the elegant technicality and smart writing make this a nicely done character piece with a scene-stealing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, and once again a home run for Paul Thomas Anderson.

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Nominations Announced for the 90th Academy Awards

It’s that time of year again, where the best films of the year get to shine and take home to golden statues! Today, the nominations were announced for the 90th Oscars. In case you haven’t heard who got nominated yet, here are the nominees (in bold is who I think will win):

Best Picture:
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director:
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Best Actor:
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress:
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Best Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Best Original Screenplay:
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Logan
Molly’s Game
Mudbound

Best Cinematography:
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Mudbound
The Shape of Water

Best Visual Effects:
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Film Editing:
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Sound Editing:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Mixing:
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Production Design:
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

Best Original Score:
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Song:
“Mighty River” from Mudbound
“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name
“Remember Me” from Coco
“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman

Best Costume Design:
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria and Abdul

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Darkest Hour
Wonder
Victoria and Abdul
I am overall pretty satisfied with these nominees, despite a few snubs. James Franco failed to get a Best Actor nomination although he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy. This was due to sexual harassment allegations that were made against him, and though I see why the Academy wouldn’t want to nominate him due to this, there isn’t anything we have to prove this was true, and though I won’t take sides on whether or not I think he did or didn’t do what he’s been accused of, his performance in The Disaster Artist was amazing nonetheless. I am disappointed that Armie Hammer for Call Me By Your Name and Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game weren’t nominated but these acting lineups were very good nonetheless. Two great films that didn’t get nominated for Best Picture like I hoped were The Big Sick and I, Tonya, which I think deserved to be on there. I am surprised to see Woody Harrelson nominated for Best Supporting Actor but he deserves it. Martin McDonagh was not nominated for Best Director which is unfortunate considering his great work with Three Billboards. The Shape of Water nearly tied the all-time record and although I didn’t love it as much as most people, it deserved most its nominations but I think Dunkirk should win most of the technical categories. As for Best Picture, I do think Three Billboards will win this year. Not only did it win the top prizes at the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, but it’s a terrific movie and better than nearly all of what was nominated this year. Overall, despite a few positive/negative surprises, this year should be quite a great one for the biggest awards of the year! We’ll find out if our predictions were right on March 4!
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