Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Jason Leigh’

Natalie Portman

“ANNIHILATION” My rating: B- (Opens wide on Feb. 23)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Given the runaway artistic and commercial success of his 2014 debut, “Ex Machina,” it’s hard not to see Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” as a case of sophomore slump.

“Ex Machina” was an almost flawless blend of performance, tension and social inquiry (Garland’s subject was artificial intelligence) that transcended the usual sci-fi parameters.

By comparison “Annihilation,” based on Jeff VanderMeer’s bestseller, feels less original and more conventional.

Plus, it has the built-in issue of being based on the first book of a trilogy — which no doubt is why at the end of nearly two hours the yarn seems unfinished.

And yet “Annihilation” has real strengths, including a mostly-woman cast dealing with a pressure cooker situation, a couple of fine action sequences and enough creeping tension to generate mucho spinal tingles.

Biologist  Lena (Natalie Portman) is in mourning. A year earlier her soldier husband Kane left for one of his black ops missions and hasn’t been heard from since. The authorities aren’t cooperative.

And then, miraculously, Kane appears in their home. He’s an emotional blank, with no memories of where he’s been.

Oscar Isaac

Before long the couple are snatched by commandos in black and taken to a top secret military base outside “the shimmer,” an area along the Carolina coast subject to bizarre anomalies.

As psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains, a few years earlier a meteor (or something) struck the area creating a “bubble” that is slowly expanding.  Numerous military teams, drones, even trained animals have been sent beyond the shimmer, but so far only Kane has returned.  And now he’s in a coma and on life support.

(How the authorities have kept the shimmer a secret for several years is one of those mysteries possible only in movieland.) (more…)

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anomalisa“ANOMALISA” My rating: B+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Plenty of movies pack an emotional wallop. Lots of movies deftly employ bleak humor. And cinematic eroticism is nearly as old as film itself.

But to find all of those things going on in an animated release…well, that’s a whole new thing.

Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa,” one of this year’s Oscar nominees for best animated feature,  is a psychological study executed with humanoid puppets that have been animated one frame at a time to give the illusion of life.

But it’s not played for laughs; rather it’s the cry of a man coming apart at the seams. Or of a world sinking into a desultory sameness.

The first thing we hear is the growing babble of dozens of voices. They’re talking about mundane stuff and quickly accelerate into a wall of incomprehensible noise.

Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a middle-aged passenger on a Cincinnati-bound airplane. A motivation speaker and author, he’s the keynote guy for a convention of customer service employees from throughout Ohio.

As he deplanes and makes his way to his cold, impersonal hotel we realize that everyone in Michael’s world — hotel employees, waitresses, actors on TV, the night clerk at a porno shop — speaks in the same voice (that of veteran character actor Tom Noonan). Or at least so it seems to Michael, who may be going mad.

(It takes a while to notice, but with the exception of Michael and Lisa, all the characters — of whatever sex — have the same face. The hair and clothing is different, but the features are the same.)

Once in the hotel Michael calls his former girlfriend Bella, who agrees to meet him for a drink and ends up screaming at him (again, in the voice of Tom Noonan) for his betrayal a decade earlier.

Just when it seems that things couldn’t get any weirder, Michael hears a distinctive female voice.  It belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is attending the convention with her friend and co-worker Emily.

Lisa is nervously chatty (always saying to herself “Shut up, Lisa”), physically shy, and frets about the facial scar she tries to cover with her hair. She’s childlike and given to big enthusiasms and sorrowful self-recrimination.

She’s just an average person — except, of course, to Michael, to whom her distinctive voice and appearance make her a blessed anomaly.  That’s why he begins calling her Anomalisa. That’s why he declares his love and his belief that they must never part.

Which leads to the saddest and most achingly erotic sex scene of any recent film. Featuring, of course, puppets. (more…)

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Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson

Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson



168 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Quentin Tarantino’s films rarely have much to say.

It’s the masterful style with which he doesn’t say anything that accounts for the filmmaker’s critical and popular success.

“The Hateful Eight” suggests that approach is wearing thin.

Absurdly violent yet overly talky, queasily looking for laughs in racism and sexism, and essentially devoid of meaning (unless you find meaning in nihilism), this Western arrives in a blast of near-comical self importance.

Walton Goggins

Walton Goggins

Shot on 70mm film (at least in the version opening Christmas Day at the AMC Town Center; it begins a run in conventional digital a week later) and featuring a 3-hour running time that includes both an overture and intermission, “The Hateful Eight” harkens back to the long-ago days of road-show movie exhibition.

Except, again, it’s not actually about anything.

The film begins with astonishing widescreen vistas of a stagecoach working its way across blinding mountainside snowfields. But, perversely enough,  it spends most of its time claustrophobically sealed in a one-room stagecoach station. Which makes Tarantino’s use of 70mm film seem like a case of using an elephant gun to get rid of a housefly.

John Ruth (Kurt Russell ), a shaggy bounty hunter with Yosemite Sam facial hair, and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are the only passengers on a stagecoach bound for Red Rocks, the town where Ruth will deliver Daisy for hanging.

They’re stopped in the middle of nowhere by yet another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a former officer in the Union Army who still wears his flamboyant blue-and-gold military greatcoat.  Warren’s horses have died in a blizzard and he needs a lift for himself and the corpses of the two criminals he has gunned down.

Ruth is immediately suspicious, concerned that he may be robbed of his prisoner before he can collect the bounty. But he allows Warren and the two stiffs to come aboard, and soon they have arrived at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a sort of middle-of-nowhere Quik-Trip for the frontier set.

Minnie and the way station regulars are off attending to family business, according to Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican hand who helps stable the horses from an oncoming blizzard.

Tim Roth

Tim Roth

Inside the station are several stranded travelers.

There’s Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate general who still wears his uniform. Mannix (Walton Goggins) is on his way to Red Rocks to start his new job as sheriff.  The British Mobray (Tim Roth) identifies himself as the territorial hangman — he’ll be stretching Daisy’s neck pretty soon.

Joe (Michael Madsen) is a quietly intimidating cowhand. Rounding out the gathering is Ruth’s stagecoach driver, the inoffensive O.B. (James Parks).

There is much macho posturing as these various personalities determine the pecking order. (It may be intended as comic, but I rarely laughed.)

And there’s lots of race baiting. Here we’ve got a black man who insists on the deference accorded everyone else…that’s sure to stir up negative sentiments, especially from the former Confederate general. (BTW…am I the only one offended by Tarantino’s overreliance on the “n” word?)

There’s a sort of Agatha Christie drawing room mystery to the first half of the film. Snowed in and forced to confront one another, some of these he-men drop hints that maybe they aren’t who they say they are. Mind games are played.

And who the hell poisoned the coffee?

Throughout the slatternly Daisy makes wise-ass comments and gets knocked around by her captor.  Leigh doesn’t have to do much acting and when she does it’s through a mask of dried blood.


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