Annihilation (2018)

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A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply. (IMDb)
Ultimately unhelpful flash-forwards and -backs mar an otherwise immersive (viscerally more than intellectually–the ending didn’t satisfy) sci-fi experience initiated by the haunting homecoming scene early on: solid turns, an intense score, and monumental visuals carry the film from spooky (see the first wake-up) to grisly (see the bear attack; stomach cut) to weird (see the trippy cave scene), with just an unforgettable sense of “WTF is going on!?” (both in awe and terror) pervading it all.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the First Order. (IMDb)
It was the cons I was thinking about when I left the theatre–the jumble of rollercoaster plot threads and tones, the bloated run-time, the sometimes cheesy dialogue (“Every word in that sentence was wrong”)–but it’s the pros that have been popping up for me ever since: The fantastic female representation, the fascinating relationship between pro- and an-tagonist, and the bold (often fourth-wall) subversions of tradition and expectations (see Yoda’s lightning, Poe’s humbling, Rose’s save).
7/10 (Good)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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Three decades after the Empire’s defeat, a new threat arises in the militant First Order. Stormtrooper defector Finn and the scavenger Rey are caught up in the Resistance’s search for the missing Luke Skywalker. (IMDb)
Self-sufficient Rey (“I know how to run without you holding my hand!”), nervous and naive Finn (“Stay calm” “I am calm” “I’m talking to myself”), and moody Kylo Ren (“I’m being torn apart”) make up a fresh and engaging trio of central characters (Poe was excellent too, just needed more screen time) that carry the film in spite of the weak plot and sometimes wooden returning characters. Great action, good pace, and surprisingly funny (“How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that”).
7.5/10 (Really Good)

 

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Drive (2011)

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A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbor. (IMDb)
Smoothly moves without leaving a character behind or strings untied from a subtly spun protagonist set-up (the quiet Driver is ever intriguing) with budding romance to a bloody crime/revenge drama spiked with shocking violence. Add to that an equally cohesive aesthetic of a moody city setting slickly portrayed (see the crossfade transitions, scrumptious slow motion shots under a gorgeous synth soundtrack) and unique scene edits (see the final confrontation) and the film packs quite the punch.
9/10 (Amazing)

Ex Machina (2015)

A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I. (IMDb)

The gorgeous and isolated setting here is mesmerizing, and the contrast between the largely windowless indoors and lush outdoors offers a cool visual aid to the human vs. machine theme that runs throughout. Isaac and the other leads are excellent, and the eerie soundtrack works well with a tight story that gets darker with each scene to create a fantastic sense of growing uneasiness that does falter a bit in a slightly muddled climax. All told, however, this is a great, haunting sci-fi thriller.

8.4/10