• Annihilation (2018)

    Annihilation is a calm, intellectual and surreal science-fiction film in the key of recent successes such as Arrival, Ex Machina or even Blade Runner 2049 to a certain degree. Based upon a recent novel by Jeff VanderMeer, it tells the story of a mysterious and expanding extraterrestrial entity known as The Shimmer that seems to transform, mutate and copy its natural environment. Several groups have gone inside The Shimmer to investigate the phenomenon but none of them have come back as all of them were apparently killed, killed one another or went crazy and got lost. One year after his disappearance, a soldier named Kane suddenly comes back home to his wife Lena. Kane doesn't seem to be himself however. He is emotionally distant, seems to suffer from dementia and suddenly starts to feel very sick. On his way to the hospital, a government security force intercepts the ambulance and brings Kane and Lena to a secret area near The Shimmer. The security force wishes to interrogate Kane but he is in a coma. The security force then decides to send one last group into The Shimmer, consisting of a worried Lena who is a biologist and has been working for the military for seven years, an obsessed and strict psychologist named Doctor Ventress, a physicist with borderline personality disorder named Josie, an alcoholic paramedic called Anya who has anger management issues and surveyor and geologist Cass who mourns the death of her daughter who died of leukemia. The five women set out on a suicide mission as they soon lose track of time and realize how the mysterious entity not only transforms their environment but also themselves mentally and physically. In a last ditch effort, the group attempts to find out the secret of the entity and annihilate it before it annihilates them.

    There are several elements that make Annihilation a worthwhile experience. First of all, the film has a constant gloomy and mysterious atmosphere from start to finish. Secondly, the movie has an intellectual plot that makes the viewers speculate until the very end and beyond. Thirdly, the five female lead characters are very interesting in their own ways and their inner demons only add to the menacing tone of the movie. Fourthly, the overall calm film is occasionally shook up by a few sudden battles and gory scenes that never feel forced because they tell us more about the strange entity and the fate of the lost groups. Fifthly and maybe most importantly, the film is visually stunning. The animations, colors and light techniques make the extraterrestrial entity very spectacular and especially the film's climax is an unforgettable dream-like experience. Finally, the film's ending is quite controversial as some people might praise it while others could despise it. It's definitely something worth discussing. You should watch this film if you have an open mind for an intellectual experience. If you are just seeking passive entertainment, this movie is definitely not for you.

    Annihilation also has a few negative elements of course. In my opinion, it's much too close to movies such as Arrival and seems to jump on the bandwagon. This might also be the reason why I happened to find the movie's twist quite predictable which lowered its intensity quite a bit. Even though I'm aware that this is fiction, I disliked the fact that five characters that would never be chosen for this type of mission in real life got teamed up together. Some of them, like the extremely selfish psychologist that would clearly need a psychologist herself or the overtly aggressive paramedic who is a danger to herself and anyone around her, feel sketchily exaggerated, even given the circumstances that the extraterrestrial entity has an impact on the characters' psyches. Some more subtleness regarding the characters would have suited the movie's tone better.

    In the end, you might appreciate Annihilation even more if you haven't watched movies such as Arrival and Ex Machina before because it would be your first impressive contact with this type of intellectual science-fiction movie. If you have watched those two movies and others of its kind before, you will probably realize that Annihilation is inferior to those films and simply a good intellectual science-fiction movie. The visual components and the intellectual story are still good enough to watch this movie at your local cinema but the film's impact isn't as big as I would have expected beforehand.

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  • Geostorm (2017)

    Going into this movie, I didn't expect anything. I went to a movie night at my local cinema on a Tuesday night and simply needed to find a second film to complete my double feature. It turns out that I got much more than I would have expected from this film.

    The story is quite diversified and family drama, conspiracy thriller and science-fiction blockbuster all at once. The difficult relationship between the main character and his brother as well as his daughter was touching and realistic. The conspiracy included two major twists that I didn't see coming. The movie makes you believe that certain characters could be behind the conspiracy before the story takes a few clever turns. The movie obviously features a lot of vivid special effects. Usually I'm not a fan of artificially flavored CGI stylistics but they actually looked impressive on screen at my movie theatre and they were also quite diversified. Exploding gas lines, gigantic hail and tidal waves are only some of the impressive meteorological elements you will see.

    The film wasn't boring at any point and doesn't deserve the harsh critics it gets. It's one of the best catastrophe movies in recent memory, probably the greatest of its kind since the South Korean blockbuster Tidal Wave a whopping eight years ago.

    An honorable mention goes out to the opening sequence where the rough but sympathetic main character played by Gerard Butler delivers a passionate speech pointing out his team's accomplishments in front of an arrogant judge and an assimilated group of followers in form of a jury. They try to bring him down but the main character stands his ground despite risking his career. Standing up for your ideals no matter what isn't always easy and could put you into a lot of trouble but you won't wake up in the morning and feel like vomiting when you see your own face in the mirror. Integrity is worth more than any money in the world. This opening sequence perfectly represents what the rest of the movie is all about. This excellent opening sequence really struck a chord with me.

    In the end, ignore the negative comments and get entertained by a vivid movie mixing family drama, conspiracy thriller and science- fiction blockbuster with charismatic characters in a visually stunning way. Make sure to watch this film at a movie theater to appreciate its bombastic sound and visual effects. Geostorm truly is a pleasant surprise.

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  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

    Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based upon a French science-fiction comics series and convinces with what might be this year's most stunning visuals in cinema along with Ghost in the Shell earlier this year. Directed by visionary Luc Besson, this highly entertaining film is a breathtaking cinematic experience for the five senses.

    However, once you look beyond the incredible special effects, this film suffers from the same flaws as Ghost in the Shell. The story is average at best since it meanders a lot and turns out to be quite predictable. 

    Since the comics series consist of numerous parts adding depth to the universe, the cinematic adaptation only shows us a few glimpses of a giant universe. Instead of adding depth to a few select characters or tribes, the movie tries to introduce us to an entire universe in just above two hours which is just too short. The script should have been more concise and focused.

    The acting performances are also average at best. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne look young, stylish and cool but they are lacking acting skills. Their characters behave like two silly teenagers gone wild which doesn't fit to the more serious and tense story line. The acting performances such as the body language and delivery of dialogues could have been more authentic, emotional and profound. Obviously, it's hard to say whether the slightly superficial and almost exchangeable performances are due to bad acting, average directing or a weak script. Maybe it's a combination of all three elements. Overall, the acting just isn't all that memorable.

    The movie focuses mostly on its stunning sound and visual effects and is an engaging roller coaster ride. While the film is great for what it is, I wouldn't recommend watching this more than once or even purchasing it. Once you go beyond the special effects, you will uncover an unconvincing plot, lack of depth and average acting performances. The film overall rather feels like a video game than a movie. To be honest, I've come across video games with more depth than this film. In the end, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an entertaining experience but nothing more.

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  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

    Are you seeking a remedy against sleepless nights? You won't need any prescriptions to solve your problem. You simply need to watch Blade Runner 2049. Almost everything that could be wrong with a movie is wrong with this one. To start on a positive note, the visual effects are faithful to the original film, the directing is precise and doesn't feature any annoying contemporary shaky camera passages and the last third of the movie quickens up the pace and is at least slightly interesting. These three positive elements explain my rating but I really had to think very hard to find these reasons.

    Let's talk about this movie's massive problems. First of all, the film is way too long and takes nearly three hours to tell a story that would have justified a length under a hour and a half. The original movie wasn't the most fast-paced genre film ever made but it was bearable with a length just below the two-hour mark.

    Secondly, the plot is quite tiresome and can be summarized in three sentences. When things finally could start to get interesting, the film actually ends without a resolution. This makes me fear the worst. It's quite probable that there will be a sequel to this sequel which means that even those who haven't appreciated Blade Runner 2049 might feel forced to watch the sequel to know how the story actually ends. If you don't want to go through that dilemma, don't watch Blade Runner 2049 in the first place. While the original film is overrated in my book and doesn't do Philip K. Dick's novel justice, it had at least a coherent plot diagram featuring an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

    Thirdly, the movie tries to be overtly atmospheric but ends up being pretentious. There are numerous shots when characters walk through decayed landscapes in slow-motion. This idea might work every now and then to emphasize on the dystopian future that serves as setting but the idea is overused and prevents any momentum or pace to build up. The original film was slow as well but also had a few emotional and vivid sequences that contrasted the bleak vision of the future.

    Fourthly, the soundtrack of this movie is awful despite being written by renowned composer Hans Zimmer. Whenever the movie is dragging on and showing the main character walking through empty buildings for five minutes, the soundtrack suddenly gets louder for no apparent reason but to keep the bored audience awake. This surprising effect got my attention in the beginning but after it was used for a third time in a row, this strategy became laughably predictable. The present soundtrack tries to capture the essence of Vangelis' gloomy compositions for the original film but doesn't even manage to be a rough blueprint of the original score.

    Fifthly, aside of Harrison Ford's character who returns in the last third of the film when the pace quickens up a little bit, most of the other characters are quite pale. Especially Ryan Gosling's characters is so faceless that you won't care about his destiny at all. Jared Leto's villain character seems to be stolen from a weak episode of a science-fiction television series of the late sixties at best. The few interesting side characters such as Carla Juri's are underdeveloped and only have a few minutes of screen time despite the film's epic length. It's quite ironic that the most interesting character is the main character's holographic girlfriend played by Ana de Armas. The original film had several memorable performances by less talented actors like Rutger Hauer who were pushed by a great director while this film doesn't have that chemistry despite the skilled personnel involved.

    It was a pain to sit through the entire movie. I felt like walking out of cinema numerous times but I stayed because I had paid for it and because I was expecting a surprising ending. Now I know that I should have walked out. Despite the great director involved, several outstanding actors and actresses on board and even one of the best soundtrack composers in the history of cinema, Blade Runner 2049 is boring, hollow and uninspired. The original film was overrated in my book but this sequel is plain horrible. It's a mystery why this film got such a solid critical acclaim but hundreds of negative reviews prove that I'm not the only one who disliked this vapid flick. For me, Blade Runner 2049 even beats the shallow Kong: Skull Island in terms of negativity and is what I consider the worst film of the year. My suggestion for you is to read Philip K. Dick's novel instead of spending any money on this disaster.

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  • 400 Days (2015)

    I'm glad I didn't buy into the numerous negative reviews and purchased this film that seemed to have a very intriguing plot. I must say that I even got much more than I expected. 400 Days convinces with a gloomy and mysterious atmosphere, four distinguished and interesting main characters and a challenging plot that doesn't give you all the answers. The movie actually takes its audience serious and requests multiple viewings and the use of your brain. The number of analyses, questions and theories around the movie on the internet only underlines the film's intellectual touch.

    Why did the movie get so many negative reviews then? Of course, some people might just not like it. The film doesn't have any stunning special effects like so many other science-fiction films. The film didn't have a big budget and the settings aren't much developed. While the actors and actresses are doing a solid job in my book, there isn't a particularly outstanding performance and you obviously won't find any big names involved here.

    However, I suspect that most reviewers rated this movie down because they literally didn't understand it. You can identify those people by reading sentences like ''The movie didn't have a proper ending!'', ''How is it possible that the Moon got destroyed?'' and ''The behavior of the characters doesn't make any sense!''. The movie does have a clear ending that makes you think and that makes sense once you really think about it. The explanation that the Moon got destroyed doesn't have anything to do with what's really going on. And the characters react very emotionally because three of them are receiving drugs and because specific planned events are supposed to trigger their exaggerated reactions. 

    I won't give any more information than this and there might be several similar interpretations of the film but it's important to understand the movie by looking at its whole essence and the things that are said in the beginning instead of taking every statement each character makes literally.

    If you are ready to explore a science-fiction movie with an experimental, intelligent and interpretative plot, you will be surprised by 400 Days. If you are looking for a spectacular science-fiction movie with a big budget and perfectly clear answers, you should better watch another shallow Star Wars or Star Trek sequel or stick to popcorn cinema fur juvenile minds such as Guardians of the Galaxy.

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