Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

NETFLIX REVIEW: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries an alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse; the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground zero is covered by an iridescent dome called the Shimmer, which looks like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. Those who enter don’t return. It’s top secret, but the phenomenon is expanding, threatening to swallow up whole cities and states…

Annihilation started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach book trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the mysterious Area X. One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex ‘Ex Machina’ Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now named Lena – is played by a characteristically poised Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence – AKA aging – to Kane, playfully arguing whether God makes mistakes. As they discuss the odd silence around Kane’s deployment, he tenderly says they’ll be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband. He goes MIA, before mysteriously returning, clinging to life.

annihilation swimming pool

F*%! you, humanity! There’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool that feels like it sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

After discovering Oscar Isaac escaped the Shimmer, a guilt-wracked Lena leaves him on a ventilator to join Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for the next mission. The rest of their team are all damaged goods: Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is addict Anya, Tuva Novotny’s geologist Cass is a grieving mother.

Josie theorizes that the Shimmer is a prism that refracts everything, including DNA. Time is distorted, while living things are reshuffled so that flowers twist into human shapes, deer have twig antlers, alligators grow shark teeth. Cass dies in the jaws of a mutant bear who later bellows with its victim’s voice.

Faced with the grotesque fate of being broken down into this new ecosystem, an already cancer-stricken Ventress rages that it feels like dementia. Josie refuses to let terror be her surviving fragment. She walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest, buds sprouting from her self-harm scars.

Is Annihilation, therefore, about how we choose to accept the inevitable? While some thought it was about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt (to others it was about depression, or Pokémon), Garland himself said he was going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. Although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool, or the artfully arranged skeletons, that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Following the trend for fans to virtue signal when sub-par movies debut on streaming platforms, there was outcry when international rights went to Netflix. Yet US theatre-goers only graded it a C CinemaScore. Fans try to ‘unpack’ the movie, lauding the way it ‘doesn’t give us all the answers’, rather than admit it loses its way as it nears the epicentre.

FILM REVIEW: Incredible Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in a 90 minute horror

Who in their right mind would want to live in the White House?

In Pablo Larraín’s heady and unsettling look at the days following the assassination of JFK, life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for widow Jackie is more claustrophobic horror than corridors of power.

(It’s no coincidence that it’s reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining – Larraín is a huge Kubrick fan, with some of the shots a deliberate homage to the filmmaker.)

A three-hander starring Natalie Portman, a score by Mica Levy (Under the Skin) and a gore-spattered pink Chanel suit, Larraín has rejected a cradle-to-the-grave biopic formula in favour of the experimental snapshot.

There’s a basic framework in the form of an interview Jackie gave to a journalist (Billy Crudup) a week after the assassination. The film jumps back and forth between roughly three timelines – the interview, Jackie’s infamous 1962 televised tour of the White House, and her husband’s funeral.

Leading up to the movie’s release, critics were hailing Portman’s performance as Oscar-worthy, yet clips from the movie revealing her distracting baby voice sounded absurd, no matter how ‘accurate’ it was supposed to be.

And for the first few scenes I suffered vicarious embarrassment. Even Larraín admitted he initially thought Portman’s accent was “too much.”  If this had been a more conventional picture, (imagine a ten-part Netflix series entitled Camelot) it might have been disastrous.

When Claire Foy was asked about getting the young Queen Elizabeth’s cut-glass 1950s accent right for The Crown, she said it would sound so alien today, they went with a “modulated” version instead.

Perhaps Portman could have tried a similar approach, but a strange thing happens; the diabolical lead performance becomes another string in Levi’s discordant score. The actress is terrific in this crazy, mannered straitjacket, every gesture and inflection both significant and strange, her only false note the row with brother-in-law Bobby.

Portman and Jackie aren’t a perfect physical match, but even that works – the tiny, frail figure of Portman swallowed up by shock and grief. She looks like a little girl clopping about in Kennedy’s heels and bouffant hair, like she raided the dressing-up box.

She’s not entirely fragile – she’s vicious as she wrong foots Crudup’s unnamed journalist. “Don’t think fer a secahnd I’m going to leht you pwint thaht,” she lisps.

This is Jackie crafting her husband’s legacy. It’s the gulf between her public persona (style icon, embodiment of the American Blue Blood) and her private persona. She mentions her miscarriages over and over; the conversations with the priest (John Hurt) stuck with me, as did the scene of the (now former) First Lady removing her blood-stained hosiery and scrubbing the brain matter from her nails.

Verdict: I have a newfound appreciation for the brittle talents of Natalie Portman. Jackie is like shattered glass. Best of all, it’s only 90 minutes. Go see!

Lx