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Annihilation • Red Sparrow

March 1, 2018

Annihilation (** ½) R

For all of its grandiose ambitions, Annihilation, writer/director Alex Garland’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to his celebrated 2015 film Ex Machina is more than a bit on the derivative side of things. How much of this is the film’s fault I cannot say but coming on the heels of such recent similar fare as Arrival and Life, comparisons are certain to be made. Suffice it to say that Garland’s directorial flourishes lend a bit of much needed gravitas to things but it isn’t enough to override the pervasive feeling of ‘been there, done that’ that hangs over the proceedings. At any rate, it’s clear that Garland is attempting to tap the intellectual/cerebral vein. Sadly, he comes up short in a film that’s really not able to generate more than what’s on the surface, which is to say standard sci-fi thrills that are found in any movie where the antagonists are in the presence of an alien life force.

One of the problems in Annihilation is an under development of the characters. The closest we come to really getting to know anything about the people that inhabit this world comes in the form of the backstory of Lena, played by Natalie Portman. Lena is a medical school professor who’s in the processing of grieving over her military careerist husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). Having been missing for a year, Kane is considered dead. That is until he shows up unexpectedly, zombie style, and suffering from some sort of vague sickness. Lena’s feelings for her husband color much of what comes later in the film.

Natalie Portman in Annihilation

Lena comes to learn that Kane penetrated something referred to as ‘The Shimmer,’ which is a basically a rainbow colored fog that has enshrouded a nature preserve near the ocean. Due to her personal connection to the mystery, Lena is asked by a military officer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to join an exploring expedition, along with several other women who are all going through vaguely defined personal crises of various sorts. Of course, being that this is an alien life force that can take various forms via its gene splicing capabilities, the women have their work cut out for them.

As previously mentioned Annihilation looks great and has all of the components one might assume would tend toward a good film. Unfortunately, there’s just something missing and it never manages to grab your interest the way that Garland’s previous film did. It leaves one to wonder what Garland thought he could add to the genre with a story that’s been told so many times before. That’s one mystery that can’t be solved so easily.

Red Sparrow (**) R

Actress Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence reunite—Lawrence having previously directed three of the Hunger Games installments—in the spy thriller Red Sparrow. The result, in spite of a few rousing set pieces, is not nearly as thrilling or intriguing as one might expect given the previous track record of the director and star. The same problem that marred too many of the Hunger Games films helmed by Lawrence also plagues Red Sparrow. More specifically, a crushing tendency toward overlength serving only to blunt any lasting resonance the film might have had within its grasp. There are times in the film, when things come to a screeching halt, that the moniker might Dead Sparrow might have been more apropos. Apparently, Lawrence and his team of editors haven’t met a scene yet that they could shorten and it truly does the film a great disservice.

The title of the film refers to the Jennifer Lawrence character, a former ballerina named Dominika Egorova, whose dreams are shattered when a horrific accident puts an end to her promising career in the world of the performing arts. Wondering how she’s going to keep a roof over her head and food on the table, as she obviously has no discernible skills outside of the world of professional dance, things don’t look too promising. That is until her Uncle (Matthias Schoenearts) talks the former ballerina into signing up for school of the Sparrow variety, where students are taught how to sexually seduce their prey in order to extract whatever information is needed at any given time. Yep, you read that last sentence correctly. The recruits are sent to school to learn all the tricks of the sex trade. It makes one wonder, what with Dominika’s former training in ballet, why she couldn’t find better ways to utilize the muscles in her legs but I digress.

Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow

The movie piles on the sex and violence as Dominika attempts to locate a mole operating in the Russian government. In the midst of all this she connects with an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) and I’ll bet you can figure out what happens next. It all gets more and more ludicrous as its seemingly never-ending story slowly—and I do mean slowly—unfolds.

Lawrence gets points for attempting to squeeze as much juice as she can from the material but all the talent in the world isn’t going to stop audiences from checking their watches frequently and wondering why don’t they just get on with it. It’s a mystery that’s more interesting than most of what’s to be found in Red Sparrow.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at



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