“One For The Money, Two For The Show, Three To Get Ready, And Four We Go…”
Directed and written by actor-turned-director, Brady Corbet, Vox Lux sees the American return to the big screen after the critical success of 2015’s, The Childhood of a Leader, for a bizarre, sometimes masterful, ideas-heavy drama which blends a whole catalogue of themes and satirical subtexts around a central narrative which focuses entirely upon the character of Celeste Montgomery, the survivor of a brutal mass shooting at her school at the turn of the twentieth century who soon finds worldwide fame and fortune in the musical industry after the song she writes for her fellow fallen students goes viral. Boldly coined by the marketing team as Black Swan meets A Star is Born, Corbet’s movie does indeed have incidental flashes of familiarity from both, but with its’ own individual identity and a strange and overly knowing holier-than-thou, art-house sensibility, Vox Lux is that type of auterish, pretentious work of boldness which tends to divide both audiences and critics alike, and whilst Corbet’s movie does indeed suffer at times from choosing to rely more on it’s very flashy and expertly designed surface over meaningful plot or characterisation, the American’s second big screen venture is a highly original and memorable work of nonsense which grabbed my attention from the offset and never let go.
Split into two very different narrative halves, the first act of Vox Lux begins with a Sunset Boulevard style voiceover, helmed of course by the dulcet and very familiar tones of Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) as we are dropped into the early life of Celeste, as played in younger form by the excellent Raffey Cassidy (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as we see her attempt to reason with her fellow student who goes through with his plan to carry out a mass school shooting, an opening set piece so expertly and horrifically orchestrated I sat jaw-dropped for a good five minutes through the opening credit roll. As we progress through Celeste’s sudden rise to fame in the pop world, we are introduced to Jude Law’s (Captain Marvel) passionate music manager and Celeste’s close relationship with her older sister, Ellie, as played by Stacey Martin (High Rise) who both play a part in the doe-eyed victim slowly becoming less and less innocent as she opens her eyes to the wider and more glamorous side of the world in which she lives. Cue a significant time jump and the second act of the movie sees Natalie Portman (Black Swan) take on the role as the elder Celeste, a now world famous, significant figurehead in the music industry suffering from a steady blend of alcoholism, narcissism and broken relationships including that of her sister and young daughter, Albertine, also played in excellent fashion once again by the impressive Cassidy. Whilst I understand the commentary regarding the effects of fame and social pressures wholly evident in the film’s second act, Portman’s performance is so vile and infuriating (in a good sense) that come the final act, Corbet’s movie becomes more and more agitating, and whilst I expect that this is undoubtedly the effect Vox Lux attempts to evoke upon the audience, it’s jarring sensibility is both intriguing and detracting, resulting in a movie which is one of the more original works of the year so far, but boy, is it hard work.
Overall Score: 7/10
“It’s Not Destroying. It’s Making Something New…”
Wowing audiences and critics alike in the past with screenplays for works of brilliance including 28 Days Later, Dredd, albeit unaccredited, and of course his masterful directorial debut in the form of 2015’s Ex Machina, the breath of fresh air which is Britain’s own, Alex Garland, returns this week with Annihilation, yet another hotly anticipated release which uses Netflix as its’ chosen distributor in the UK after somehow failing to secure a deal for a nationwide cinematic release. Whilst Ex Machina was essentially a low-key, claustrophobic comment on the notion of artificial intelligence which always settled for brains over brass idiocy, going against the ilk and financial safety net of many contemporary sci-fi blockbusters, Garland’s latest expands the film-making horizons of which genuinely interesting science fiction can be explored, a movie which although at times seems to not entirely piece together as smoothly as one would ultimately like, powerfully blends thought provoking notions of unidentified alien contact with nightmarish surrealist terror which both takes cues and evolves on from classic genre pieces of which the movie undeniably takes reference from.
Based upon Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel of the same name, the first entry within the well received “Southern Reach Trilogy”, Garland’s movie focuses on Natalie Portman’s, Lena, a former soldier turned biologist who after the mysterious year long absence of Oscar Isaac’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) husband figure and current serving member of the U.S Army, Kane, embarks on a high risk expedition into the unknown phenomenon known as only as the “Shimmer” in order to find both an explanation behind its’ origins and answers regarding Kane’s sudden disappearance. Teaming up with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s (The Hateful Eight) Dr. Ventress, a straight-faced terminally ill psychologist who takes lead of the group, and Tessa Thompson’s (Thor: Ragnarok) somewhat timid and “damaged” physicist, Josie, among others, Annihilation explores a mode of discovery as we venture into the ambiguous “Shimmer” with Portman’s Lena taking point as the audiences access into the surrealist undertakings our heroine witnesses through her journey into the unknown. With an opening thirty minutes which leans heavy on background details regarding Kane and Lena’s unfaithful relationship and the apocalyptic nature of the “Shimmer” itself, the remaining runtime hands forth a narrative which keeps the audience on edge, forever guessing the threat which ultimately will be discovered as the cards reveal themselves come a Under the Skin inspired final act.
Aided by an uncertain, uncomfortable sensibility, a tonal cornerstone which is completely rife from beginning to end, Annihilation is at times genuinely unnerving in nature, with minimal use of jump-scare tactics and a tendency for a complete lack of resolution regarding particular plot threads resulting in a Blair Witch style behaviour pattern in which the audience builds up tension ready to be alleviated but is instead left stranding and unsure of what to expect next. With the movie at times resorting to handheld footage in order to explore the outcome of previous expeditions within the “Shimmer”, the Blair Witch similarities are abundantly clear, whilst it comes not much of a stretch to see the likes of the monster effects of The Thing, the surreal science fiction beauty of Arrival and the nihilistic low-key apocalyptic themes of the little seen mind bending Coherence within the DNA of the piece too, and whilst at times dialogue does seem a tad on the nose and the special effects not exactly pitch perfect, a surprising weakness considering the Oscar winning work of Ex Machina, Garland’s latest is a wonderful work of science fiction cinema, one which will please genre fans from the outset and one which too leaves a lasting impression like all the best experimental works of art do so well.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Never Wanted Fame, I Just Became A Kennedy…”
Of the many Oscar nominated movies this year, there are still are few which have managed to slip by my eager eyes even after the conclusion of the ceremony on Sunday, one which ended in a somewhat controversial yet wholly hilarious fashion of course and one which ended up with a final tally of zero wins for Pablo Larraín’s first English speaking movie in the form of Jackie, a cinematic adaptation of the life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, one which focuses primarily on events within her life directly after the infamous assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy in 1963. With critical success all around and a barnstorming level of hype regarding the performance of Natalie Portman in the leading role, Jackie is yet another case of a film this year which suffers from the remarkable amount of reputation which precedes it, and whilst films such as Moonlight, at least on second view, and La La Land are examples of movies which stood up and deserved the many plaudits propelling them forward, Jackie is indeed a solid body of work with some superb individual elements, but ultimately a movie which is not as memorable or exciting as many that have preceded its’ release this year.
Of the most impressive elements of Jackie, Natalie Portman in the leading role is of course as superb as you would expect, with her performance a strangely captivating depiction of one of the most famous faces of the mid 20th century and one which almost requires the audience to tune their ear in order to distinguish performer from performance, particularly in regards to an accent and tone of voice which is extremely peculiar to say the least and actually requires an immediate referral to YouTube in order to find out whether the real Jackie Kennedy actually spoke in such a manner. Alongside Portman, composer Mica Levi continues her supermassive success in Under the Skin with an equally eerie soundtrack, one which succinctly captures the sense of strangeness of a post-assassination life of Jackie Kennedy whilst also seeming entirely out of place, with it having a sense of belonging to a knuckle-biting horror flick instead in a surrealist Lynchian-esque conundrum. Whilst these individual elements are impressive, the winding narrative of the movie becomes mildly dwindling after a while where the second half of the movie doesn’t carry the immediate captivation of the first, resulting in a very solid adaptation of one of the most respected First Lady’s to ever grace the White House.
Overall Score: 7/10
Earlier today we Brits were treated to the release of yet another Marvel movie! This instalment of Thor details the resurgence of the Dark Elves – a race who ruled the universe in complete darkness and seek to bring back the black with the use of a super weapon which does a lot of complicated science stuff. So, we have more aliens fighting alien. I always feel that this is what makes Thor shine. It’s not always bound to saving earth. It’s a much wider aspect that opens up far more avenues for high octane fun. With a mix of brilliant cameos and sassy jokes, Thor is definitely a must-see.
As I’ve already explained the story, I don’t feel much need to complain about it. With a lot of twists and turns, you are drawn into the story, even if moments are predictable. Being that it is a Marvel movie, it is going to have the good vs bad which drives the story forward even if it feels a little generic.
Visually, it was almost perfect. ALMOST. Certain green screen scenes and long distance shots made characters stick out like a sore thumb, overly bright in a dark area and this really agitated me. The same could be said about some of the fight sequences that do exactly the same. Otherwise there are some brilliant visual effects all the way through astonishing costume design that makes everything look badass.
Marvel are not known for Oscar worthy scripts and acting but it wasn’t bad. Yeah, there was a few cheesy lines but they were mixed in with witty one-liners that were very funny and kept a continual up beat feeling throughout. The sassy nature of Loki with his banter towards Thor is golden. It helps to enforce the fact that they are siblings. This sassy nature also uses Loki’s power to transform himself into Captain America and spout excitable, patriotic nonsense which he is notorious for but also makes Loki look like he is trying to impress his older brother. With another guest appearance from Stan Lee, the film seems complete. The only other thing to focus on is the acting. Hemsworth and Hiddleston were perfect, as ever. My issue rides with Natalie Portman who plays a pretty pathetic character in the first place but she doesn’t look genuine – almost uncomfortable in her role. Fear ends up looking more like shock. An additional actor that many people don’t really focus on when they think Thor is Idris Elba. If you haven’t read my Pacific Rim review, you should know that I love this man and I feel he didn’t have a big enough role within this film and I wanted to see what happened to him at the end.
Overall, I consider a 8/10 a good score. It’s a darker and more personal twist for Thor to undertake and appears to be the current trend at Marvel (Look at Iron Man). Yet, some acting, some poor CGI and a few loose ends within the story do drag it down for me. Superhero/action movies will never achieve a 10/10, simply because they are more for fun rather than the critical film making that many critics desire.
I’m sorry for such a short and crazy review but seeing I’m running on 5 hours sleep and trying to keep up with everything that’s going on is not an easy task.
Yesterday, Marvel released the new trailer of the sequel to Thor; “Thor: The Dark World” and damn, this has got me excited!
Set after the events of the Avengers and some spaceship is attacking earth once again. Forcing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to return to the protection of civilisation and Jane foster (played by the beautiful Natalie Portman).
As far as I can tell, most of the characters and actors from the first film have returned, but one of the characters everyone has wanted to return, made his appearance at the end of the trailer. I am obviously talking about Loki, played by the talented Tom Hiddleston and from the looks of it he is teaming with Thor! Exciting stuff!
According to IMDB, it will be directed by Alan Taylor and he has been apart of some fantastic stuff, such as a favourite TV show at the moment Game of Thrones as CO-executive producer and director for a few episodes and he did some directing in the Sopranos, both top and fantastic shows so it will be interesting to see what he brings to Thor.
The poster at the top says that it will be released the 8th of November that is for the US and for those in the UK it is to be released 30th of October, I can’t wait. Make sure to check out the trailer below and tell us what you think.