2 Good Movies: Annihilation & Downsizing

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Last night I watched Annihilation on Hulu, then Downsizing tonight. Two good movies! Back to back! You care about that, right?

Saw both on Hulu, which has been worth it, I’m surprised to say–but only if paying the extra $50 or so/year for no commercials. And speaking of surprises, I’m not used to watching 2 good movies back-to-back.

Why are they good? Craftsmanship, I suppose. They must have started as compelling stories, and throughout thousands of decisions made by myriad personalities who assembled to produce works of entertainment over multi-year timeframes, no one screwed the process up too badly. Many choices were well made. It’s above average, and it must be why directors get so much credit–it’s difficult to guide a cargo ship to port, but someone’s got to steer it–and there’s only one steering wheel. Yes, there were tugboats and navigators and radio communications, but we need a single point to focus our praise or blame.

I look like Swamp Thing but moisture kills me.

Annihilation

What’s good? This movie is weird. Not just a lame attempt at supernatural, as sci-fi often does. It exhibits smart takes on scientific principles from fields of biology to electromagnetism, but not in an eye-rolly way… remember in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs,” a race of aliens figured out interstellar travel but didn’t know they were visiting a planet covered in a poisonous molecule (H2O) found commonly throughout the galaxy? This movie isn’t that silly. For example, a strange biological phenomena is explained as “refraction,” like of light through a prism, but in this case, DNA through “the Shimmer”; a name for the environment inexplicably extending for miles around a swampy lighthouse.

There’s a part I’m sure was inspired by the “zombie ant” phenomena recently discovered.

ANNIHILATION - ZOMBIE SPORES
ANNIHILATION – ZOMBIE SPORES
ANT - ZOMBIE FUNGUS
ANT – ZOMBIE FUNGUS

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/compound-eye/most-zombie-ant-photographs-are-upside-down/

Anyway, this movie keeps its weird alien vibe the whole while and doesn’t have some wonderfully upbeat message tacked on at the end (looking at you, Arrival)

If anything, it just gets weirder and weirder until the incredible lighthouse sequence. It’s horrific and unnerving but also original. I’m not going to spoil it with images.

Downsizing

I must have watched the trailer for this on Hulu and was swayed enough to watch the feature, because I wasn’t going to. I like Matt Damon, but when he Buys a Zoo or Informs, I’m not usually interested. And this looked like that to me.

I’m not really a movie buff, so I didn’t automatically know director Alexander Payne directed Sideways and About Schmidt also. 2 great movies. I knew he’d directed The Descendents because of Matthew Lillard telling a humorous story about it on a podcast. And when I watched this movie I started remembering how much I liked The Descendents, which is weird because it shouldn’t be very relatable: guy who’s part-heir to owning half of the most paradisiacal Hawaiian island has troubles… trouble in paradise. Is there a more annoying trope? Probably.

THE DESCENDANTS

So how’s this for relatable: Guy decides to be one of the small fraction of humans who safely–but permanently–reduce their size to a few inches tall to live less expensive/lower consumption lifestyles. But I was right there with Damon’s character: it seemed like the best decision for quality of life! Still, this is a story, so there must be conflict, and for starters, his wife bails on him before she shrinks, but after he irreversibly shrinks. She gone.

What’s good? Because of the conflict we get to meet Christopher Waltz’s character, who makes it fun, and Hong Chau’s character, who makes it amazing, as a movie should feel about 6-inch-tall people (and you, the viewer, are one of them, so enjoy the wondrous perspective).

Here’s a clip of the most amazing monologue I’ve seen in a movie. It made the movie for me, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t watch it here out of context. If you have seen it, enjoy again.

Currently at 49%, this is another movie that reminds me how the Rotten Tomatometer is worthless as a predictor of entertainment quality. Critics weren’t nice to this movie, but Payne does what he’s done in other films: take something that should only be unrelatable or boring and make it compelling and memorable.

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