Random Movies: Best to Worst

Annihilation

Annihilation is advertised as being a totally different movie than it is, which sucks because it’s attracting people who will probably be disappointed by it and repelling people who might actually like it. What it actually is is an incredibly weird slow-burn sci-fi movie written and directed by the same person who wrote Sunshine and Ex Machina. It’s about a team of military scientists (all women) who investigate a diseased area of the swamp where animal and plant DNA is fusing in ways it shouldn’t be able to. Along the way they wrestle with several different ways of understanding the concept of “disease,” as well as the question of what it means to encounter something so genuinely alien that you can’t understand what it is.

This isn’t, like, the funnest movie I’ve ever watched, but it’s really, really smart and it’s aimed squarely at sci-fi nerds, even though the trailers are trying to sell it to a mainstream audience. It’s less of an Arrival than a Contact or a Moon.

The five main cast members give good performances, sometimes in different types of roles than we’ve seen them in before, and there’s a nice attention to detail that makes it feel more grounded than a typical action/adventure movie (example: Natalie Portman tries to brace herself and aim before firing a rifle). In short: it’s unexpectedly good, and more nerds should watch it.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji is exactly what it’s advertised to be but also unexpectedly good. This particular iteration is about four teenagers who get sucked into a video game where they’re suddenly in the bodies of heroes played by Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and the Rock. It’s not super smart, but it is really fun, and it hits the balance of funny/exciting/positive-message-for-kids that you want from a movie like this.

I was especially surprised and pleased by Jack Black’s performance – he’s playing a shallow teenage girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body and he does it with a surprising amount of sincerity that stops it from being sexist or homophobic. Karen Gillan does not sound American (and I’m not 100% sure why she needs to), but she’s also really fun to watch.

Coco

I was biased against Coco because it had the bad fortune of coming out on the heels of The Book of Life and Kubo and the Two Strings. The story is a mash-up of elements from both of those films along with Pixar tear-jerking, and it’s hard to get past the feeling that it’s standing in the shadow of movies that had a more unique vision. The movie also rests on a very obvious plot twist where, if the characters had figured it out as soon as the audience did, most of the story wouldn’t have happened.

That said, taken entirely on its own merits, Coco is a pretty solid movie that’s genuinely very upsetting and moving at the points it’s meant to be. It’s also telling a story very specific to Mexican culture and treating that as normal rather than weird and exotic, which is nice.

Pitch Perfect 3

This wasn’t nearly the trash fire I was promised it would be. Yeah – at this point, the movies don’t need to exist, and it’s clear that this is all just happening randomly so we can get the cast back together and hear them sing songs, but I think the story knows that. I think it’s laughing with us at how ridiculous the situation – where the graduated Bellas get back together to go on an international tour and compete for a prize offered by DJ Khaled, and all the boys from the previous movies are quickly written out, and a bunch of rival bands are there with Ruby Rose, and also it’s a thriller with kidnapping and explosions – is. And I think, if you just accept that, it’s a fun ride. Sort of like Spice World. Sort of.

Infinity Chamber

Infinity Chamber, also called Somnio, is low-key sci-fi movie about a guy trapped in a cell guarded by a robot and trying to find a way to escape the cell without his escape plan turning out to be an illusion beamed into his head by the same robot. There’s lots of confusion about what is Real and what is Not, and whether he’s falling in love with a figment of his imagination or with a persona put on by the robot, and where he is, and what is happening.

It’s not bad, but it’s often confusing and not usually very exciting, partly because the stakes can never be higher than what the situation means to this one character, personally.

Backtrack

Backtrack is about a psychiatrist whose patients are all ghosts, and his mentor is a ghost, and they want him to go back to his home town and solve the mystery of why they are all ghosts, and it should be awesome, but instead it’s hilarious and crazy.

I think the reason is because the tone of the film is completely, dourly serious, but the plot twists we’re asked to accept are always really extreme, and there’s not enough time to adjust to them. Like, without giving away the whole story, it’s mashing up literal ghosts with a criminal investigation that has a huge (and very serious) plot twist. Being asked to accept both that plot twist and the literal existence of ghosts and the breakneck speed it happens – considering that a long section at the start of the film is only about the ghosts and doesn’t include the criminal investigation at all – is a lot.

I think that either the ghost story or the crime story would have been fine – even if the crime story involved figurative ghosts – but they’re a really weird mix together, and it doesn’t always work.

Voice from the Stone

Voice from the Stone is about a creepy Victorian governess nurse in a creepy Victorian mansion with a creepy Victorian kid. I guessed all the major plot twists just based on genre, and that allowed me to play a game called, “What is happening from her employer’s perspective?” that was much more fun than the movie.

From her employer’s perspective, she ignores everything she’s been told about his son and chases him around trying to make him talk to her, then she starts dressing up like his wife, then she starts coming onto him, then she starts talking to the wall, then she tells his son that he should listen to the voices in his head, then she’s like, “The ghosts are real and they’re shipping us!!” and she passes out. And he’s like, “Why? Why can’t I hire a normal nurse? Why does this tornado need to spin through my home at this moment of grief after my wife has died?” And the answer is, because it’s funnier that way.

Image: Annihilation; Paramount Pictures | March 24, 2018