Sunday, March 11, 2018

Annihilation Review

I just saw Annihilation, and I wish I had seen it sooner.

Based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, which I didn't read, Annihilation is a sci-fi/horror film that reminds me very much of H.P. Lovecraft. The basic plot reads as this: A meteor falls out of space in what I think is Florida, which then creates some shimmering field around itself (called the Shimmer) that is slowly expanding. Anyone sent in never comes out, save for one man, Natalie Portman's husband, Oscar Isaac. Natalie Portman's character, Lena, after ending up at the facility tasked with researching the Shimmer, decides to join with the researching team about to go on an expedition. They enter the Shimmer, but only Lena returns.

With themes, the film shared a lot in common with my favorite Lovecraft story, The Colour Out of Space. A meteor begins a strange transformation in the landscape and creatures, and is essentially incomprehensible. If you had told me this was an adaptation of that story instead of Jeff VanderMeer's, I would have believed you.

It starts slow, but the buildup just raises the tension until the real action starts. And by "action," I don't mean fighty Avengers action, I mean suspenseful, nightmarish, body-horror type action. The effects are great, you can tell they used practical effects when they could, and the CGI was something they spent a lot of time on. One effect near the very end of the film mesmerized me.

The film is overall surreal and terrifying. Even when there's not a big monster doing something, things just seem off enough to grab your attention. It takes its time, doesn't try to rush any reveals, and you don't learn everything about everyone right off the bat. To avoid spoilers I won't say much more, but the ending was more nightmarish and uncanny than anything before. I had a hard time figuring out exactly what was happening, and I loved it. It was stunningly creative in its design and concepts, it's definitely one where I want to listen to the director's commentary when I have the chance.

One minor point that I'm surprised hasn't gained any traction, but all the main characters are women in scientific fields. It's the sort of thing they tried to market Ghostbusters 2016 with, but in this film it's not just a cash-grab move. I wasn't even aware of the cast before going in, but you would think, especially given the tone of the most recent Oscars, that somebody would be making a big deal out of it. I'm just sort of bewildered that this isn't getting any attention, I thought this was what everyone wanted...?

Sadly, looks like the film ain't doing too well in the box office, which is a real shame. I guess this is the kind of thing that happens when you're out the week after Black Panther, the most popular movie ever made. If you're a fan of the surreal, sci-fi, or want to see something you haven't before, I highly recommend Annihilation, as long as it's still in theaters by the time you read this. Or if it's on Netflix, I guess, which is the only venue it's being released in outside of the US.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Venom Teaser Trailer

Did you guys know there's a Venom movie coming out? It hasn't really become reality to me yet, everything I've been hearing about it sounds like rumors from a soon-to-be-cancelled project. But I guess it is actually happening, 'cause we got this teaser trailer.

In contrast to the other Sony Spider-Man film being made, Into the Spider-Verse, I'm not super excited about this one.

It just seems weird to me to have a Venom standalone movie without him being introduced with Spider-Man. Is Spider-Man gonna be in it? If not, why does he have a big spider on his chest? I'm almost afraid they would just get rid of that, but more than likely they'll just make up some bullshit reason.

From the looks of things, the film may have Eddie Brock's cancer as a prevalent story element, which was made a part of his history well after he was introduced in the comics. There's a lot of shots of hospitals and stuff, including an MRI, but then again, it could be he's subject to some kind of experiment involving the symbiote.

Speaking of the symbiote, the teaser shows what looks like a crashed spaceship, and afterwards a shot with a bunch of scientists with a tube of goo, so it doesn't look like they'll do the space shuttle thing from the 90's Spider-Man animated series.

I just don't know about Tom Hardy playing Eddie Brock. He was good in Mad Max, but Bane left a bad taste in my mouth I can never wash away. If this is meant to tie in with current Homecoming Spider-Man, the age difference between them would be really weird. Brock is supposed to be a contemporary of Peter Parker, which ties in with the whole evil double thing he's got going on.

It may be even more odd if the rumors currently circulating are true, and that this is less a retelling of the classic Eddie Brock Venom and more like Agent Venom, the newer iteration with Flash Thompson. I'm wary of that, since Agent Venom only worked because it had two characters' histories to work from, both Flash and the symbiote's. If Eddie Brock in this film has no connection to Spider-Man or Peter Parker, is he even really Venom?

It can't be judged too harshly based on a single teaser trailer, but I'm gonna dial down my cautious optimism to thinly veiled pessimism. There's no way I'm not gonna see a Venom movie when it first comes out, but at this point I'm expecting less Amazing Spider-Man, and more Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Let's Watch Woody Woodpecker

The self is a nebulous concept. Our identity, though seemingly concrete and continuous, shifts constantly throughout our lives. Things we believed were permanent facets of our personality alter considerably and until confronted with the difference we hardly notice. Like the Ship of Theseus, parts are replaced again and again, until the only point of reference is our physical appearance. We look back and find ourselves strangers, with confusing decisions and incomprehensible demeanor.

If such a thing goes unnoticed within ourselves, what about those we know? What changes could they undergo if we haven't seen them in years? Our memories betray us, giving us no indication of what they could have become. What changes lurk unseen behind their facade? How much of one's mind can you see through their eyes?

And what a pair of eyes this is.

What has happened to you, my old friend? You look so similar, and yet... You fill me with dread. Who are those people? Why does that woman look so aroused? There is only one way to know. I shudder at the thought.

Let's Watch: Woody Woodpecker

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Bergen's Burden

Happiness. So ephemeral, so illusory. Can we obtain it? If we seek it, will it remain beyond our grasp? What brings it about, and how can we keep what we've attained? We've pondered these questions for all of human history, and they've been addressed by something not nearly up to the task. Trolls.

No, not that one.



There we go.

In Trolls, there are two races of being. The eponymous Trolls, small annoying creatures who love to hug and dance and all that shit, and the Bergen, big hulking ugly humanoids that have one trait in common: They are all depressed. They remain listless, apathetic, and emotionally destitute for their entire lives, save for one possible treatment. Eating a Troll.

The Bergen hold an annual holiday where they harvest Trolls from the Troll Tree in the middle of town, each Bergen eats a Troll, and they temporarily quench the harrowing despair. They depend upon this to keep their community alive. Well, at least it seems like they would have to. In the events of the film, all the Trolls breach a dangerous escape from Bergentown, and for twenty years not one Bergen eats a Troll.

Miraculously, they've not all killed themselves. In fact, things seem to be going pretty well as far as a clinically depressed town goes. It looks like they all got jobs, and there's kids around, so something must be working out. I guess they haven't created alcohol yet. Hope surges through the town when their exiled cook finds the Troll village and brings some back. Trollstice begins anew!

There sets off the events of the film, where two Trolls have to get into Bergentown and save the rest, they meet some Bergen, and teach them all something surprising. See, in two occasions, Bergen feel happiness without ingesting a Troll. In one, the King Bergen goes on a date with the chambermaid, who is helped by the escaped Trolls. They have a fun time dancing around and rollerskating, not realizing until later that they even experienced joy. The second instance comes at the end of the film, where Poppy, the Troll Princess, explains that happiness isn't found in something outside, but inside each and everyone one of you. All you gotta do is dance. And that's it. They all start dancing and the ending of the film implies everyone will be happy forever now.

I found something odd, though. How is it that no Bergen ever tried to dance during the twenty year absence of the Trolls? They had a roller rink, how did that not do the trick? I mean, there's children, so obviously Bergen relationships still occurred, but nobody admitted to being happy. On the one hand, it's possible they were so misled by the notion that only Trolls could bring happiness that they discounted any positive feelings as something aside from True Happiness. But something else stands out.

During every single instance of a Bergen feeling joy, there is a Troll present. During the King's date, Trolls were on the head of his disguised chambermaid, and he had one in a pendant around his neck. The cook only felt happy once she had captured some Trolls and had them in her fannypack. At the end, their dance is only jubilant because the Trolls had escaped their pot and were frolicking about their banquet hall.

Not once does a Bergen display happiness without a Troll on their person or around them. We were taught one thing in the beginning of the film, and it remains true: A Bergen cannot be happy without a Troll. What the Bergen got wrong was that they would have to eat said Troll to experience the psychological effects, while the Trolls, being almost entirely unfamiliar with sadness of any kind, think it's all in their heads.

The Trolls mistake their general disposition to be universal, that what makes them happy must make all delighted. And perhaps, for that one night, the Bergen were happy. But all pleasures must have a cost. One can live in a state of subdued misery for years at a time and become accustomed to it, but the real trial is when happiness is thrust suddenly into one's life, and quickly taken away again. If the Trolls no longer live in Bergentown after the end of the film, the Bergen will go far lower than their previous state of depression, because they knew bliss, it seemed within their grasp, and they will have no idea why it has gone. As a species, suffering is their lot, and it seems they will always return to it. What the film lead you to believe was a happy ending was, in fact, the beginning of a long, desperate tragedy. As Mark Twain wrote:

Sometimes a man’s make and disposition are such that his misery-machine is able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through life almost ignorant of what happiness is. Everything he touches, everything he does, brings a misfortune upon him. You have seen such people? To that kind of a person life is not an advantage, is it? It is only a disaster. Sometimes for an hour’s happiness a man’s machinery makes him pay years of misery.

We cannot blame the Bergen. They are cursed with this emotional defect that befouls their species. Trolls will never understand it, they simply haven't any notion of what could cause it. We should reserve our pity for them. They are God's playthings, left destitute and barren only for the schadenfreude of the heavens. In the end, nobody can truly lift the burden of the Bergen.