Annihilation (2018)

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Directed by Alex Garland
Country: USA

English filmmaker Alex Garland has a penchant for intellectual sci-fi thrillers. The follow-up to the well-received “Ex-Machina” is another uncanny puzzle entitled “Annihilation”, the first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, originally penned by novelist Jeff VanderMeer. Garland adapted it for the screen, calling Natalie Portman to impersonate a biology professor and former soldier who joins a female team of military scientists to undertake the oddest mission ever.

As a premise, the film presents us Lena (Portman) under interrogation by U.S. Government agents about a classified expedition into an unearthly, abnormal phenomenon known as The Shimmer. She was the only survivor from a psychedelic experience that also involved psychologist/team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), and geologist/surveyor Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny). Former military incursions into the affected area, which covers a national park, were unsuccessful, and no one ever returned to tell the story, except for Sargent Kane (Oscar Isaac), Lena’s husband. However, he seems to have lost his memory and falls gravely ill with multiple organ failure, most likely due to virus or radiation exposition. The rumors are that, once there, people lose their memories and then are mysteriously killed, or get delirious and start killing one another.

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Thus, there's plenty of bite here, even before the team steps into the iridescent electromagnetic field that identifies The Shimmer. Once in there, confronted with several technical problems and time lapses, they observe that the landscape and all types of life form are mutating. It’s not uncommon to find plants with a human shape and they even see trees made of crystal. However, if this certainly won’t scare you, punctual grotesque encounters with wild, abhorrent, carnivorous creatures will make you twist on your seat. Possible hallucinations? The dreamlike tones are properly set to make us alert as we penetrate in this chimerical world of horror and beauty. Macabre footage by the precedent explorers is found in an old warehouse, which bemuses the brave women even more.
According to the ice-cold Dr. Ventress, who shows there's something wrong with her as she lectures Lena about self-destructiveness, the goal is to reach a lighthouse at the center of The Shimmer.

We’ve all seen this type of story many times before and its moods are not a novelty either. Still, Garland, who has the capacity to develop ideas beyond the superficial, conquered me with a magnificent last part, superbly represented through visually mind-blowing images drowned in gorgeous special effects. It’s the psychological side of the story that is challenging as it also brings thrills and excitement.

Fusing elements of “Alien”, “Predator” and “Arrival”, “Annihilator” is a dark-tinged equation whose resolution whets our appetite for the upcoming sequels.

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Jackie (2016)

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Directed by Pablo Larraín
Country: USA / Chile / France

The filmmaking competence of the acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Larraín ("Tony Manero", "Post Mortem", "No", "The Club") is not at stake in his latest feature, “Jackie”, a stylized biopic with a few aspects to admire.

The film, written by Noah Oppenheim (“The Maze Runner”, “Allegiance”) and co-produced by Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream", "The Wrestler", "Black Swan"), is centered on the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, emulating her emotional states in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s shocking assassination in 1963. 
Natalie Portman flawlessly embodies the title character and delivers an enlightened, Oscar-worthy performance. She got strong back up from Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt.

On a cold winter day, an apparently self-confident Jackie welcomes a curious journalist (Crudrup) into her house. He just wants to know the truth about what really happened in the days immediately following the tragic occurrence.
Alternating between serious and playful, Jackie goes through that grieving period in an unsentimental way. She brings up all the turmoil around the case - the devastating affliction caused by the loss, the scary autopsy and funeral, the last day in the White House, and a few relevant moments spent in the company of Bob Kennedy (Sarsgaard), her protective brother-in-law, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), the caring White House social secretary, and an understanding priest (Hurt) who helped her to regain balance.

The settings are decorated with gusto and an encouraging luminosity is present even in the darkest scenes. All these aspects enhance the absorbing production values.
With frequent close-ups that attempt to lock us inside the character's psyche and drawing a completely different tension, the first English-language feature from Larraín is occasionally blurred by a deviant narrative. However, it’s still a solid and interesting watch. 
It became obvious to me that without Portman, “Jackie” would be at risk.